OPINION: Long waiting times for medical care predated the pandemic

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After a two-year battle with COVID-19, a senior Toronto health official recently stated: cautious optimism as the number of cases continues to decline. However, as we hope this battle comes to an end, it’s time to take a look around and assess the damage done across Canada.

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One of the many consequences of the much-needed attention to COVID has been the associated lack of resources for other healthcare services. Result? According to the latest datain 2021, across 12 specialties, Canadians waited an average of 25.6 weeks between a referral from a GP and receiving a scheduled treatment, the longest wait time ever recorded.

And, to be clear, elective surgery usually does not refer to optional, but rather planned or scheduled treatments (as opposed to emergency), such as hip and knee surgeries, as well as preventive surgeries. cancer and optional cordial shunting and stenting.

This represents a jump of 175% from when this measurement was first taken in 1993, when the average waiting time was 9.3 weeks. However, it is important to note that Canadians can also expect to wait 20.9 weeks for treatment in 2019 – before the pandemic. So even though COVID has exacerbated waiting times over the last two years, patients still experienced significant pre-pandemic waiting times.

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Of course, waiting times vary considerably by province. Ontario reported the shortest provincial median wait in 2021 (18.5 weeks), while Nova Scotia reported the longest (53.2 weeks).

The waiting time also depends on the specialty. For example, Canadians can expect the average wait time for neurosurgery to be 49.2 weeks and for orthopedic surgery to be 46.1 weeks. However, radiation treatment and oncology treatment had the shortest wait times at 3.7 and 4.4 respectively, while cardiology came in third with 11.8 weeks.

In diagnostic technology, where long waiting times can lead to poor health, in 2021 Canadians can expect to wait 10.2 weeks for an MRI, 5.2 weeks for a CT scan, and 3.6 weeks for an ultrasound. For CT scans in four provinces (including Ontario), the waiting time was four weeks, less than in other provinces.

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When it comes to MRIs, Ontario continues to outperform other provinces with the shortest waiting time in Canada (six weeks). Alberta had the longest waiting times for diagnostic technologies for both CT scans (10 weeks) and MRIs (24 weeks), while Prince Edward Island recorded the longest waiting times for ultrasounds in the country (16 weeks) .

Overall, an estimated 1.4 million Canadians were waiting to be elected in 2021, up 16% from a year earlier. If we assume that every Canadian only had one procedure, that figure would represent 3.7% of the population that year.

By looking at the damage, Canadians are starting to get a clearer picture of the state of our healthcare system as we hopefully move into a post-pandemic world. With one of the longest waiting times in the developed world, provincial governments must take a close look at their programs if they hope to provide timely assistance to Canadians who are currently waiting for medically necessary care.

Mackenzie Moir and Bacchus Barua are analysts at the Fraser Institute.

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