Further progress on wait times needed,
OTTAWA – A Wait Time Alliance (WTA)
report card released in June shows some spotty progress in cutting wait
times in the five clinical areas deemed priorities by governments.
However, far too much of the wait-times picture for patients remains
shrouded in mystery.
“People can go online and track the progress of a package they shipped
from one end of the country to another, yet in many parts of Canada
patients still cannot find out how long they can expect to wait for
critical medical treatments and procedures,” said WTA co-chair Dr. Lorne
Bellan. “We need to do a better job of tracking and reporting on the
full wait that patients experience to access necessary medical care.”
The WTA’s fourth annual report card – entitled Unfinished Business to
highlight the fact that much more work remains to be done to cut wait
times – grades the progress of provincial governments in reducing waits
compared to last year.
This year’s WTA Report Card shows slight improvement over the previous
year in wait times for the five priority areas.
New this year, the WTA Report Card includes data on the total wait for
an expanded range of specialty services. This includes waits for more
procedures under the initial five priority specialty areas, as well as
for procedures in new specialties, specifically: psychiatry,
obstetrics/gynecology, gastroenterology, plastic surgery, anesthesiology
and emergency care.
Unfinished Business also examines wait times from the time a patient is
referred by a family physician to the time treatment by the specialist
“In England, the maximum allowable target time set by the National
Health Service for referral by family doctor to the day of treatment is
18 weeks,” said Dr. Bellan. “Our study shows that for many medical
specialties in Canada that we examined, we don’t even come close to
For provincial “Trends” in reducing wait times, the 2009 Report Card
again shows that some progress has been made over the last year with
only a few regressions in some areas. The failure of governments to
apply wait-time targets to a broader array of clinical services remains
a glaring example of the work that still needs to be completed.
“Five years ago, governments agreed to targets for coronary artery
bypass grafting, just one, narrow part of cardiac care,” said WTA
co-chair Dr. Lorne Bellan. “Since then, there has been no progress in
expanding benchmarks, even though the Canadian Cardiovascular Society
developed a full set of evidence-based care in 2005.”
“While some progress is being made, it only represents a small step
toward improving access to timely care for our patients-there remains
much unfinished business,” added Dr. Bellan.
Dr. Robert Ouellet, president of the Canadian Medical Association,
listed solutions from Europe that Canada could draw on. For example,
about six years ago, England started funding hospitals based on the
number and type of patients they see instead of lump funding. The result
was waiting times “melted like snow in the sun,” he said.
In Denmark, patients waiting more than a month are automatically
referred to private clinics, said Dr. Ouellet, a radiologist by training
who owns and operates medical imaging clinics in Quebec.
Likewise in France, wait times are kept in check by referring 60 per
cent of non-urgent surgeries to private clinics. The surgeries are paid
for under the public system.
Dr. Ouellet stressed he’s not pushing for U.S.-style private medicine,
which he called a poor performer in terms of life expectancy, infant
mortality and spending per capita. About 46 million Americans under the
age of 65 lack health insurance.
For more information on the 2009 Report Card and background materials,