Wait times for surgery in Canada at all-time high: study

A typical Canadian seeking surgical or other therapeutic treatment had to wait 18.3 weeks in 2007, an all-time high, according to new research published Monday.

A typical Canadian seeking surgical or other therapeutic treatment had to wait 18.3 weeks in 2007, an all-time high, according to new research publishedMondayby independent research organization the Fraser Institute.

"Despite government promises and the billions of dollars funnelled into the Canadian health-care system, the average patient waited more than 18 weeks in 2007 between seeing their family doctor and receiving the surgery or treatment they required," said Nadeem Esmail, director of Health System Performance Studies at the Fraser Institute and co-author of the 17th annual edition of Waiting Your Turn: Hospital Waiting Lists in Canada.

The survey measures median waiting times to document the extent to which queues for visits to specialists and for diagnostic and surgical procedures are used to control health-care expenditures.

"It's becoming clearer that Canada's current health-care system cannot meet the needs of Canadians in a timely and efficient manner, unless you consider access to a waiting list timely and efficient," Esmail added.

The 2007 survey found the total median waiting time for patients between referral from a general practitioner and treatment, averaged across all 12 specialties and 10 provinces surveyed, increased to 18.3 weeks from 17.8 weeks observed in 2006. This was primarily due to an increase in the first waiting period, between seeing the general practitioner and attending a consultation with a specialist.

Total waiting times increased in six provinces: Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador. This masked the decreased waiting times in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.

Waiting times best in Ontario

Ontario recorded the shortest waiting time overall (the wait between visiting a general practitioner and receiving treatment) at 15.0 weeks, followed by British Columbia (19.0 weeks) and Quebec (19.4 weeks). Saskatchewan (27.2 weeks), New Brunswick (25.2 weeks) and Nova Scotia (24.8 weeks) recorded the longest waits in Canada.

The waiting time between referral by a GP and consultation with a specialist rose to 9.2 weeks from the 8.8 weeks recorded in 2006. The shortest waits for specialist consultations were in Ontario (7.6 weeks), Manitoba (8.2 weeks) and British Columbia (8.8 weeks).

The longest waits for consultation with a specialist were recorded in New Brunswick (14.7 weeks), Newfoundland and Labrador(13.5 weeks) and Prince Edward Island (12.7 weeks).

The waiting time between specialist consultation and treatment — the second stage of waiting — increased to 9.1 weeks from9.0 weeks in 2006. The shortest specialist-to-treatment waits were found in Ontario (7.3 weeks), Alberta (8.9 weeks) and Quebec (9.4 weeks), while the longest waits were in Saskatchewan (16.5 weeks), Nova Scotia (13.6 weeks) and Manitoba (12.0 weeks).

Among the various specialties, the shortest total waits (between referral by a general practitioner and treatment) occurred in medical oncology (4.2 weeks), radiation oncology (5.7 weeks) and elective cardiovascular surgery (8.4 weeks).

Patients waited longest between a GP referral and orthopedic surgery (38.1 weeks), plastic surgery (34.8 weeks) and neurosurgery (27.2 weeks).

Nova Scotia best for CT scans

As in past years, patients also experienced significant waiting times for various diagnostic technologies across Canada: computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and ultrasound scans.

The median wait for a CT scan across Canada was 4.8 weeks. British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia had the shortest wait for CT scans (4.0 weeks), while the longest wait occurred in Manitoba (8.0 weeks).

The median wait for an MRI across Canada was 10.1 weeks. Patients in Ontario experienced the shortest wait for an MRI (7.8 weeks), while Newfoundland and Labradorresidents waited longest (20.0 weeks).