NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Group Files Lawsuit Over Cancer Treatment Waiting Lists

April 23, 2004

A class action lawsuit is being launched against 12 Quebec hospitals on behalf of 10,000 patients who waited more than eight weeks for radiotherapy after being diagnosed with breast cancer.

The woman initiating the lawsuit waited three months in vain for radiotherapy under Canada's public health care system before spending $10,000 to receive the costly treatment outside the country. The suit, the first of its kind, could entail damages as great as $37 million and have repercussions across Canada. The country has struggled to provide prompt radiotherapy for years:

  • Quebec had about 1,200 patients waiting for radiotherapy in 1999 -- some for as long as five months.
  • Long delays caused one Toronto hospital to consider a proposal that would ask patients to sign a waiver acknowledging the health risks involved in joining waiting lists.
  • In 2000, several provinces sent more than 800 patients to the United States for treatment as a result of shortages of healthcare staff and long waiting times.

The Fraser Institute, which conducts an annual survey of hospital waiting lists, says that in 2003 Quebec had the second longest waiting time (10 weeks) for radiation treatment for breast cancer in Canada. Quebec's Supreme Court has ruled that eight to twelve weeks is the maximum delay that is medically acceptable.

Source: David Spurgeon, "Women Sue over Delays in Treatment for Breast Cancer," British Medical Journal, March 20, 2004.


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