British Columbians report 2nd-worst access to health care in Canada: poll

Click to play video: 'New survey finds many Canadians having problems accessing health care'
New survey finds many Canadians having problems accessing health care
WATCH: A new Angus Reid survey has found millions of Canadians say they're having 'chronic difficulties' accessing health care. As Kamil Karamali reports, Canadians say they're having more problems than Americans. – Sep 7, 2022

British Columbians report the second-worst access to health care in Canada after the Atlantic provinces, a new poll by the Angus Reid Institute has found.

Thirty-four per cent of residents surveyed described “chronic difficulty” in accessing the services they need, compared to 37 per cent of Atlantic Canadians and 26 per cent of Ontarians. The national average was 29 per cent.

“It kind of upset me because we should be doing better,” said Vancouver family physician Dr. Anna Wolak of the B.C. findings.

“We try to figure out how best to improve access and as one physician you can’t do anything … so there’s a lot of structural overhaul that needs to happen before those numbers look better.”

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The non-profit Angus Reid Institute and its U.S. counterpart surveyed 2,279 Canadians and 1,209 Americans in August.

The results published Wednesday suggest more than 60 per cent of Canadians are not confident they could access health care in a timely way in the event of an emergency. It’s a stark difference from Americans, only a quarter of whom reported the same lack of confidence.

The poll found Americans are twice as likely as Canadians to report “comfortable access” to the system, at 30 per cent and 15 per cent respectively.

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Despite reports of better access in the U.S., Wolak said she’s not sure the time is right to add a private tier to Canadian health-care systems, citing cost as a major barrier.

“Before having to go into the private-public debate, you need to look at the redistribution and reallocation of what is being given already to the public system, because the money is there, it’s just that the people who need it the most aren’t getting it,” she explained.

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Last month, the B.C. government and Doctors of B.C. announced an $118-million short-term fund to help stabilize family physician practices and clinics in the province. Meanwhile, the two groups are working to address stagnant wages and a problematic fee model that doctors have said results in patient backlogs, along with increased and unsustainable business costs.


In a written statement responding to the poll results, the B.C. Ministry of Health attributed many service delays in the past two years to the COVID-19 pandemic, along with “unprecedented demand” on the system. “Significant investments” are coming in the next few weeks and months, it added.

Almost 100 per cent of patients whose scheduled surgeries were delayed in the first wave of the pandemic have now had their operations, said the ministry, along with nearly 80 per cent of those whose operations were postponed in the fourth and fifth waves. It also cited “tremendous progress” on wait times for diagnostic imaging in the province.

“We know people continue to feel those challenges, but we’re confident our progress so far demonstrates our willingness to continue to meet these challenges,” the ministry wrote.

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Nearly three quarters of Canadians polled in the summer survey also said they know at least one person who received “inadequate medical care” in the past six months. A little over half said someone close to them suffered serious health consequences because of it.

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Two in five had a difficult time accessing or could not access one of either non-emergency care, emergency care, surgery, diagnostic testing, or specialist appointments in the last six months.

Vancouver’s Eileen Davidson, an advocate for rheumatoid arthritis patients, said she was unsurprised by the survey’s findings. She spent six months in 2022 without a family doctor and was forced to visit urgent care or the emergency department for many of her needs.

“It’s been very frustrating because as someone who is immunocompromised, wait rooms are a little nerve-wracking,” she explained. “Not everybody wants to wear masks or social distance in those small wait rooms.”

Davidson told Global News it took two years for her to see a pain specialist in B.C. and it still takes a number of months to nail down an appointment with her rheumatologist.

She’s not alone; according to the poll, 30 per cent of Canadians reported it was very difficult or impossible to get a specialist appointment, compared to nine per cent of Americans. Six per cent of Americans reported the same level of access to emergency care, compared to 23 per cent of Canadians.

Overall, young women were most likely to report “chronic difficulty” accessing care, followed by young men, who are least likely to attempt to access care, the poll found.

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In Canada, the Angus Reid Institute’s poll has a margin of error of plus or minus two percentage points, 19 times out of 20, and in the U.S., plus or minus three percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

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