Health care is the most important issue for Albertans, according to a new public opinion poll commissioned by the CBC.

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Albertans have generally positive views of the health care they receive, once they get into the system. ((CBC))

Of 804 people from across the province polled by NRG Research, 56 per cent said health care is their greatest concern. That's nearly 20 percentage points more than in 2006, when a poll suggested that 37 per cent of Albertans thought health care was the most important issue.

"Albertans care deeply about health care. Economic concerns are clearly there now given where the economy's at, but health care dominates throughout the province and throughout every different demographic break that we look at," said Bruce Cameron of NRG Research, the group that conducted the poll.

"The issue of health care really strikes to families and your quality of life and I think that's why it's remained at, or near the top of the agenda for most of the past decade," Cameron said on Monday.

Wait times top concern

The poll also found that wait times for surgeries, such as hip replacements, topped the list of concerns about health care at 34 per cent. Following that, 25 per cent of Albertans worry about a shortage of physicians, 19 per cent worry about having enough hospital beds available, and 13 per cent worry about a serious shortage of nurses.

Gloria Gregorchuk , 68, of Calgary, said she's been told her hip is not bad enough to warrant surgery despite the fact she limps when she walks.

"They say it's not bad enough yet, so they're just trying to postpone stuff," Gregorchuk said. Despite concerns about waiting for surgical procedures, 70 per cent of Albertans said their personal experiences with the health-care system are positive.

'Concerns that they have are about the delays getting to good health care not the type of care they receive once they get into the system.'—Bruce Cameron, NRG Research

Gerri Ball reiterated that finding as she was leaving Edmonton's University of Alberta hospital. 

"I would give it about an eight out of 10, I think, because they have been very good to me. I had surgery in June on my lung and I didn't have to wait at all when I came in," Ball said.

The poll suggested that 45 per cent of the Albertans say they're happy with the overall quality of health care in the province, and there's no contradiction there, Cameron said, because the two issues are different.

"Concerns that they have are about the delays getting to good health care, not the type of care they receive once they get into the system," Cameron said.

The poll, conducted in mid-September, is considered accurate within 3.5 percentage points, 95 per cent of the time.