A Fraser Institute report shows the median wait time for surgery across the country is 19 weeks between the referral from a general practitioner and the start of elective treatment.

Surgical wait times longest in 18 years in Canada

More surgeries than ever before being performed in B.C., health ministry says.

A new report by the Fraser Institute shows wait times for medical treatment have reached a new high in Canada – the longest wait times in 18 years.

But in B.C., more surgeries are being done than ever before, says the provincial Ministry of Health.

The report shows B.C. has the second-shortest total wait at 19.3 weeks – but that is still an increase from 18.8 weeks in 2010.

The Fraser Institute report, entitled Waiting Your Turn: Wait Times for Health Care in Canada, shows the median wait time for surgery across the country is 19 weeks between the referral from a general practitioner and the start of elective treatment.

“At 104 percent longer than it was in 1993, this is the longest total wait time recorded since the Fraser Institute began measuring wait times in Canada,” the report says.

“It is estimated that, across all 10 provinces, in 2011 people are waiting for an estimated 941,321 procedures,” the report finds.

“This means that, assuming that each person waits for only one procedure, 2.8 percent of Canadians are waiting for treatment.”

The report notes the doctors surveyed reported only 9.4 per cent of patients are on a waiting list because they requested a delay or postponement.

But the results “indicate that despite high levels of health expenditure and provincial wait time strategies, it is clear that patients in Canada are waiting too long to receive treatment,” states the report.

The B.C. Ministry of Health cites a different, scientific report conducted by the Canadian Institute for Health Information, published in March 2011, that shows “B.C. is a leader in meeting the federally set benchmarks for all priority wait time areas: radiation treatment for cancer, cardiac care, sight restoration and joint replacement.”

According to that report, more than 90 per cent of patients receive care within benchmarks for the two most vital wait time areas – cardiac care and radiation treatment for cancer.

“We are doing more surgeries than ever before in B.C.,” the health ministry says in a prepared statement.

“In fiscal 2010/2011, there were approximately 514,000 surgeries done in B.C. – 26 per cent more than done in 2001/2002.”

The ministry says that by adding more surgeries each year, increasing the number of surgeons and helping physicians manage their wait lists better, “we have been able to maintain a relatively flat level of growth in our waiting lists and wait times, despite the continual growing demand for these services.”

Patient-focused funding is “another reason for our success,” the ministry says, and states an additional 36,000 patients received surgical and diagnostic care and an additional 67,000 emergency department patients were seen within targeted wait times in the first round of funding.

A new regional online tool was launched by Fraser Health last week as well, to help pair waiting patients with available surgeons – www.fraserhealth.ca/surgery

The ministry’s statement notes it is “important to remember the results of the Fraser Institute survey are based on opinion – not science” and that reasonable wait times must be based on clinical data and not personal opinion.

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