NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


March 12, 2008

Wait lists for medically necessary health care are Canada's shame, says writer Nadeem Esmail.  Canadians are generally proud of their universal access health insurance program, which ostensibly provides access to care regardless of ability to pay.  However, as Beverly McLachlin, Chief Justice of the Canadian Supreme Court, says, access to a waiting list is not access to health care.

An examination of Canada's lengthy wait lists can help put that statement in perspective, says Esmail:

  • In 2007, wait times for access to health care in Canada reached a new historic high: 18.3 weeks averaged across 12 medical specialties.
  • Canadians waited a median of 25 weeks for cataract surgery from the time their general practitioner referred them to a specialist to the time they received treatment.

More alarmingly:

  • Canadians waited a median of 42 weeks for joint replacement.
  • This means that those patients who were referred by the their general practitioner for a hip or knee replacement surgery on January 2, only half would have received their treatment by October 23 while half would still be waiting for care.

Consider the personal costs a wait line of that magnitude entails:

  • A patient may experience an adverse event while waiting.
  • The wait could cause a potentially more difficult surgery and recovery.
  • Any wait time entails some amount of pain and suffering, mental anguish, lost leisure, lost productivity at work, and strained personal relationships.

How concerned is the government about the personal costs associated with these lengthy wait times?  According to Esmail, not much.  Their main goal is to avoid serious negative health consequences rather than minimize waiting and, thus, personal costs all together.

Source:  Nadeem Esmail, "Why are Canadians Still Waiting for Healthcare?" Fraser Institute, February, 2008.


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