Health

Priority surgery wait times improve

More than 80 per cent of Canadian patients received priority surgeries such as hip replacements within medically recommended wait times, a new report finds.

Performance improves over 2010 report

Radiation treatment for liver tumours. Nearly all Canadians, 98 per cent, who needed radiation treatment received it within the clinically recommended time frame. (Alexandra Beier/Reuters)

More than 80 per cent of Canadian patients received priority surgeries such as hip replacements and cancer radiation treatments within medically recommended wait times, a new report finds.

Where the patient lives in Canada has an impact on how long they wait, according to Monday's report from the Canadian Institute for Health Information, which monitors provincial progress in meeting benchmarks. 

Wait times map 2010

Click for wait times by region

Source: Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI)

The report focused on the patient wait times for the five priority areas identified by first ministers in 2004:

  • Cancer treatment.
  • Cardiac care.
  • Sight restoration.
  • Joint replacement.
  • Diagnostic imaging.

Overall in 2010, 84 per cent of Canadian patients received hip replacements and 83 per cent had cataract surgery within wait-time benchmarks, the group said.

Last year, the group reported at least 75 per cent of surgery patients in Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec were consistently getting priority surgeries within benchmark timeframes.

In 2010, the proportion of patients who received knee replacement surgery within the recommended six-month wait ranged from 42 per cent in Nova Scotia to 89 per cent in Ontario.

For cataract surgery, 48 per cent of patients in Alberta received their surgery within the recommended 16 weeks, compared with 89 per cent in New Brunswick.

Tip of iceberg for needs

Nationally, the proportion was slightly lower for knee replacements, 79 per cent, and hip fracture repairs, 78 per cent.

Nearly all Canadians, 98 per cent, who needed radiation treatment received it within the clinically recommended time frame, CIHI said.

For heart patients, at least 95 per cent of people received bypass surgery within benchmarks in nine provinces, but the urgency levels are not yet applied consistently, the institute noted. Quebec reports the bypass percentage by assigned urgency level.

Wait time information is more limited for diagnostic imaging than for other priority areas, with only five provinces reporting these waits. Generally, waits for MRI scans were longer than for CT scans but there is no common benchmark that all provinces use.

"What have we learned over these last few painful and vaguely productive years? That first of all, the areas we targeted were the ones that were deemed most necessary, most needy of attention, but they are still only a fraction of what is going on out there," said Pamela Fralick of the Canadian Healthcare Association in Ottawa, a national body that includes provincial hospital and health-care associations.

"Yes, let's welcome the good news that we have made some progress, but let's recognize that we've only touched the tip of the iceberg."

Benchmarks are defined as "evidence-based goals that each province and territory will strive to meet, while balancing other priorities aimed at providing quality care to Canadians. [They] express the amount of time that clinical evidence shows is appropriate to wait for a procedure."

There are several reasons why patients may not be treated within benchmarks, such as if someone has a complication while waiting that makes surgery temporarily inappropriate, or elective procedures that are cancelled because of a lack of available beds.

With files from The Canadian Press