Canadians waiting longer between referral and treatment, reports show

Waiting times for medical treatment in Canada have increased since 2013, according to the Fraser Institute's 'Waiting Your Turn: Wait Times for Health Care in Canada, 2013' report and a related report from the Commonwealth Fund.

The Fraser Institute publication – which surveyed specialist physicians across 12 specialities and numerous provinces across Canada – reported a 18.2 week waiting time between referral and treatment.

The waiting times between 2012 and last year rose across the sector between referral by a general practitioner and consultation with a specialist – which saw an increase from 8.5 weeks in 2012 to 8.6 weeks the year after. The waiting time between a consultation with a specialist and receiving treatment also increased from 9.3 weeks in 2012 to 9.6 weeks last year.

Canadians waited almost three weeks longer than what physicians consider to be clinically “reasonable” for elective treatment following a specialist appointment, the research found.

The postcode lottery played a part in waiting times, the report said. Those patients living in Ontario had the shortest total wait last year, at 13.7 weeks, while those living in Prince Edward Island endured the longest waiting times at 40.1 weeks.

Variation was also seen between specialities, with patients waiting the longest time between a GP referral and orthopaedic surgery at 39.6 weeks, while those awaiting radiation oncology waited just 3.5 weeks for treatment to begin.

Last year, patients waited for an estimated 928,120 procedures across all 10 Canadian provinces, representing 2.7 per cent of Canadians waiting for treatment, assuming that each person is awaiting just one procedure.

The report highlights that, despite the levels of funding being ploughed into the health system and the provincial wait times reduction strategies, patients are still waiting too long for treatment across Canada. Importantly, physicians report that only about 11.1 per cent of their patients are on a waiting list because they requested a delay or postponement.

The Health Council of Canada, a non-profit organisation that monitors the country’s care system, reported that some patients are being forced to wait almost a year for an orthopaedic procedure, something which, they say, would not be tolerated in the US.

A new report from the Commonwealth Fund, a private foundation that aims to promote a high performing health care system, showed that Canada ranked last among 11 OECD countries in relation to how quickly patients are seen by their family doctor.

Canada has seen no improvements in waiting times since 2004, the 'Where You Live Matters: Canadian Views on Health Care Quality' report confirmed. The survey results – which were published by the Health Council of Canada – found that address can play a huge part in treatment times.

“We see that we are by far the country that waits the longest for emergency departments and that’s a direct relationship to the fact that we don’t have good access to our primary care providers at different times of the day,” Dr Mark Dobrow of the Health Council of Canada told CTV News Channel.

“Even though British Columbia is the highest performing province, when you look internationally, they’d still be last when we look at the other countries,” he added.

Almost 50 per cent of Canadians reported that they visited an emergency department for a health problem that could have been treated by their family doctor if they had been able to secure an appointment – a trend which has added extra pressure to an already oversubscribed department.