NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Waiting Your Turn

November 5, 2003

Rationing of health care under a public system means that Canadians are waiting longer than ever for medical treatment. Waiting times for surgical and therapeutic services in Canada have increased 7.3 percent over last year, according to a Fraser Institute study.

The total waiting time for patients between referral from a general practitioner and treatment, averaged across all 12 specialties and 10 provinces surveyed, rose to 17.7 weeks in 2003 (from 16.5 weeks in 2001-02). Among the significant findings of the study:

  • The waiting time between referral by a General Practictioner (GP) and consultation with a specialist rose to 8.3 weeks, an increase of 14 percent over last year (7.3 weeks); waiting time between specialist consultation and treatment -- the second stage of waiting -- increased for Canada as a whole between 2001-02 and 2003, rising from 9.2 to 9.5 weeks.
  • Among the various specialties, the shortest total waiting time is for medical oncology (6.1 weeks), radiation oncology (8.1 weeks), and general surgery (10.3 weeks); in contrast, patients waited longest between a GP visit and orthopedic surgery (32.2 weeks), ophthalmology treatment (30 weeks), and plastic surgery (28.6 weeks).
  • Over 90 per cent of waiting times are considered beyond clinically "reasonable" times by the doctors surveyed; consequently, some 1.4 percent of patients left the country to receive treatment.

Patients also experienced significant waiting times for diagnostic services, including waits of up to 24 weeks for an MRI.

Thus, Canadians are waiting almost 18 weeks for essential medical care. And these lineups have almost doubled over the past 10 years. The federal and provincial governments are still failing to act in the face of international evidence that increasing patient options for private care reduces waiting times," said John R. Graham, the Institute's director of health and pharmaceutical policy research.

Source: Michael Walker & Nadeem Esmail, "Waiting Your Turn: Hospital Waiting Lists in Canada," Critical Issues Bulletin, October 2003, Fraser Institute.


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