As Canada’s health-care system continues to grapple with staffing shortages, long wait times and emergency room closures, nearly 30 per cent of Canadians report “chronic difficulty” accessing care, new polling shows.
The survey results published by the Angus Reid Institute on Wednesday found that an equivalent of nine million Canadian adults said that it was difficult or impossible to access key health services — from emergency and non-emergency care to surgery, diagnostic testing and specialist appointments.
While 31 per cent of respondents said they faced some challenges, 15 per cent reported comfortable access to care.
“I think the results are quite depressing,” said Angus Reid, chairman of the non-profit institute.
“What this study does is it just puts up some numbers behind a lot of the anecdotal evidence that’s been coming out all summer about the horror stories that people are experiencing in accessing care in Canada,” he told Global News.
Those who report challenges are more likely to say their health had deteriorated, the study said.
The online survey included 2,279 Canadian adults and was conducted last month.
According to the poll, over the past six months, two in five people in Canada said they had a difficult time getting either emergency care or a specialist appointment.
Residents of Saskatchewan and Ontario were more likely to say they had some challenges, while people in British Columbia and Atlantic provinces had a more difficult time accessing health care, the poll found.
At least 58 per cent of respondents said it was very difficult or impossible to see a specialist, while 48 per cent seeking surgery said the same.
Emergency departments, in particular, are bearing the brunt of the many issues plaguing Canada’s ailing health system, with many ERs across Canada having to close intermittently in recent weeks and months.
The strain is being felt in small and big ERs from coast to coast, with patients in need of urgent medical care facing extended wait times.
Experts say what’s happening in emergency departments is due to a number of complex factors, including the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, an unprecedented shortage of health-care practitioners and lack of beds in long-term care homes.
Confidence in health-care system
The situation has dented trust in the health-care system among Canadians, with three in five respondents saying they are not confident about timely access to emergency care, the Angus Reid poll found.
But two in five are more optimistic they will receive urgent care without delays, the survey showed.
Separately, an Ipsos poll in August 2022 found that 16 per cent of Canadians rated the quality of health care in the country as “poor or very poor”
Only half the respondents said they trust the country’s health-care system to provide them with the best treatment — a drop of 11 percentage points from 2020.
The current “crisis”, as described by many front-line workers, has also reignited a longstanding debate over privatization of the Canadian health-care system, with several provinces weighing their options.
Institutional rules and laws of the health-care system are holding Canada back, said Dr. Michael Rachlis, public health physician and adjunct professor at the University of Toronto.
“There are all sorts of rules and laws that deeply influence these dysfunctional behaviours that we see in our health system that need to be changed,” he told Global News in a previous interview.
Compared to the United States, where health is largely covered by private insurance, accessing health care in Canada was “about twice as difficult”, Reid said.
According to a parallel survey of 1,200 Americans also done by ARI, 70 per cent said they were confident of receiving emergency care in a timely fashion, compared to 37 per cent in Canada.
“We’ve always prided ourselves in being number one in relation to the U.S., but certainly in terms of the access that our citizens have to health care, we’ve slipped badly into second place,” Reid said.
— with files from Global News’ Teresa Wright and Jamie Mauracher