Medical wait times have nearly doubled in the last 20 years: report

Medical wait times have nearly doubled in the last 20 years: report - image
(AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

According to the Fraser Institute, Canadians are waiting months on average for a number of medically necessary elective surgeries.

The report called “Waiting your turn: wait times for health care in Canada” talks about elective medical procedures across 12 major medical specialties measured in each of Canada’s ten provinces.

Nadeem Esmail, the director of health policy studies at the Fraser Institute and one of the authors of the report, says there are about a million Canadians who are on wait lists for access to health care services.

“On average, they are waiting about 18 weeks from the time a general practitioner identifies an issue that needs to be referred to a specialist to the time a specialist delivers the care that is required.”

Esmail says the wait times have nearly doubled since 1993.

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“In 1993, the wait time was 9.3 weeks from GP referral to treatment. We are now up at 18.2. In fact, we have been at and around that level since the early 2000’s,” says Esmail. “Wait times grew quite considerably through the 1990’s and hit about the 16-20 week range in the early 2000’s and have stayed there. They do not want to go down, they don’t want to go up.”

The 2013 report found waiting times for elective medical treatment have increased since last year.

The report also suggests physicians believe that Canadians wait approximately three weeks longer than what they consider is clinically “reasonable” for elective treatment after an appointment with a specialist.

The authors found a great deal of variation in total waiting time across the country.

Ontario had the shortest total wait in 2013 at 13.7 weeks while Prince Edward Island reports the longest wait time at 40.1 weeks.

Wait times were also found to vary depending on the specialty.

Patients wait longest between a GP referral and orthopaedic surgery (39.6 weeks), while those waiting for radiation oncology begin treatment in 3.5 weeks.

“Wait times are shorter when it comes to cancer treatment,” says Esmail. “For example, radiation, oncology, medical oncology – they are a little bit longer, but still relatively short. But then they get considerably longer for things like medically necessary orthopedic surgeries or medically necessary plastic surgeries. They can also be remarkably long for medically necessary neurosurgery.”

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Esmail says increasing wait times is a trend they are seeing despite increased spending on health care in Canada and that the government should be looking to European countries like Sweden and Portugal for ideas on how to change current policies.

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