Winnipeg ER wait times improving but still lag behind most Canadian hospitals: report

Despite posting the greatest improvements in emergency room wait-times in the country, Winnipeg’s hospitals still trail behind most Canadian hospitals, according to the latest update from the Canadian Institute for Health Information.

WRHA head says she expects waits to get shorter as health care transformation continues

Exterior sign for the emergency room at Winnipeg's Health Sciences Centre. (CBC)

Despite posting the greatest improvements in emergency room wait times in the country, Winnipeg's hospitals still trail behind most Canadian hospitals, according to the latest update from the Canadian Institute for Health Information.

The report shows ER wait times in Manitoba improved by nearly 14 percent, going from 5.1 hours in 2016-17 to 4.4 hours in 2017-18. The Canadian average is 3.2 hours.

Casting a shadow over the performance is the fact three Winnipeg hospitals still fall among the 10 worst performers in the country, with the soon-to-be-shuttered Concordia General Hospital emergency department having the the slowest times nationwide out of more than 200 hospitals.

The emergency room is slated for closure next June, as part of the next phase of health care reforms.

CIHI's figures are expressed as "90th percentile times," which peg how long it takes for 90 per cent of ER patients to receive an initial assessment by a physician. Winnipeg's emergency rooms receive about 900 visits per day.

The good news for the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority is the four other emergency rooms in the city have seen improvements in their ranks this time around.

Health Minister Cameron Friesen said the latest figures are a testament to the success of the dramatic overhaul of the health care system.

"It shows that healing our health care system is working," Friesen said.

"Manitoba is bucking a national trend, where every other jurisdiction is show an increase, Manitoba's times are down 13.7 per cent." 

These changes included the closure of Misericordia's Urgent Care Centre in October of 2017, along with the conversion of Victoria General Hospital's ER to an urgent care centre during the same period.

CIHI is an independent, not-for-profit organization that provides information on Canada's health systems and the health of Canadians. Quebec does provide data to the organization and is therefore not reflected in these results.

How do the WRHA hospitals rank out of 204 peer hospitals for longest ER wait times?

  • Concordia Hospital - 1
  • Grace Hospital - 7
  • St. Boniface General Hospital - 9
  • Health Sciences Centre - 31
  • Seven Oaks General Hospital - 33

Victoria General was ranked the second-worst for wait times in 2016-17. It was converted to an urgent care centre in October so its standalone results were not included in CIHI's ER wait time indicator. 

At a technical briefing prior to the release of CIHI's data, the WRHA's acting chief operating officer was optimistic about the report.

"We're pleased that we are improving. We clearly recognize that we still have a ways to go to continue to improve and to move from the bottom of the country," Lori Lamont said Wednesday.

The spike in mandatory overtime hours is concerning, says WRHA chief nursing officer Lori Lamont. (John Einarson/CBC)

In addition to the scorecard on wait times, the report also measures the total time spent in an ER for patients that ultimately go on to be hospitalized for further treatment.

Lamont said the vast majority of patients entering the ER are ultimately discharged and return home. But in about 10 per cent of cases, patients are admitted and require bed space. For this group, the time it took to flow through the emergency department improved by 25 per cent, going from 43.5 hours in 2016-17 to 32.6 hours in 2017-18.

In Canada the average was 33.1 hours in 2017-18 — an improvement of 1.5 per cent.

These measures are also based on 90th percentile times.

Lamont said she is pleased with the hospitals' continued improvement and expects to see more improvements as they move forward with their plans for Manitoba's health transformation.

The upcoming changes include the closure of the Seven Oaks ER, which will be converted to an urgent care centre in the fall of 2019. In addition mental health services and surgical resources will be shifted next month.

"Being in the middle of a change of this size has an impact," she said.

"So until all of the changes are made we don't expect to get to our target."

CIHI's data covers the 2017-18 fiscal year.

Year-to-date information provided by the WRHA showed continued wait time decreases at every hospital except for Seven Oaks, which has increased about five per cent this fiscal year.

The year-to-date average wait for all WRHA hospitals so far in 18-19 was 4.2 hours for the 90th percentile. 


Jacques Marcoux

Data journalist

Jacques Marcoux is a former CBC News investigative reporter specializing in data analysis. He continues to contribute to CBC News.


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