Canadians wait longer for medical treatment

Patients in Canada waited longer for surgical and other therapeutic treatments in 1999 than in previous years, according to the Fraser Institute's 10th annual survey,

Under Canada's government health-care system, there are no user fees, and crucial medical resources are priced and allocated by provincial governments. Thus medical care is rationed by limiting access, in the form of queuing for treatment. Patients must first visit a general practitioner (GP) for a referral to a specialist, wait to see the specialist, then wait again for treatment.

Fraser Institute researchers surveyed 2,315 physicians in 12 different specialties to determine average waiting time by province and type of treatment.

  • Total waiting time rose from 13.3 weeks in 1998 to 14 weeks in 1999, a 5.3 percent increase, on average.

  • Total waiting-time increased in eight provinces, and decreased in Manitoba and Ontario.

  • The shortest average waiting times were in Manitoba, where patients waited 11.2 weeks; the longest total wait is in Saskatchewan, where patients wait 34.5 weeks for treatment after referral by a GP.

    Waiting times have increased a dramatic 51 percent since 1993, when the median total wait for Canadian patients to receive treatment was 9.3 weeks.

    The first component of total waiting time – the time between GP referral and specialist consultation – actually decreased from 6 weeks in 1998 to 5.6 weeks in 1999. But the waiting time between specialist consultation and actual treatment rose from 7.3 to 8.4 weeks, a 15 percent increase.

    Among the various specialties, the shortest total wait for treatment was for medical oncology, at a little over one month. But patients waited two months for radiation treatment for cancer, more than four months for neurosurgery and almost six months for orthopaedic surgery.

    Source: Martin Zelder and Greg Wilson, "Waiting Your Turn: Hospital Waiting Lists in Canada (10th Edition)," Critical Issues Bulletin, October 2000, Fraser Institute, 4th Floor, 1770 Burrard Street, Vancouver, BC, Canada, V6J 3G7, (604) 688-0221.

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    RSA Comment:
    One of the worst aspects of a national health care system is that it cuts down on people’s choices. Patients requiring urgent treatment often do not have alternatives to the delayed care they receive from the system. Canadians can travel over the border to the United States to undergo urgent life-saving surgery but have to pay the cost themselves. A grateful Canadian heart-surgery patient whose life was saved by American surgeons who operated at short notice subsequently set up a foundation to assist fellow Canadians finding themselves in the same predicament he had faced – a choice between high-cost, top-quality, instant attention in the U.S.A. or waiting in the Canadian queue, with potentially fatal consequences.

    Eustace Davie, Director, FMF.
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