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Wait times

Feds announce project for pediatric wait times

TORONTO – Prime Minister Stephen Harper (pictured) earlier this month announced the federal government will invest $2.6 million in a Wait Time Guarantee pilot project for children in need of surgery.

“Ultimately, today’s initiative will lead to a Patient Wait Time Guarantee for all children,” said Harper.

The 15-month pilot project, scheduled to start this month (January 2007), will include the development of the first pan-Canadian information system to measure the burden of waiting times for children who need surgery.

It will also include the development of a clinical recourse plan for children whose surgical wait times fall beyond the clinical access guidelines that were proposed by the National Child and Youth Health Coalition and endorsed by the Paediatric Surgical Chiefs of Canada.

The initial focus of the project will be on six key surgical areas: cardiac, cancer, neurology, sight, spinal deformity, and dental treatment requiring anaesthesia. Within one year, one of these areas will be chosen to test a guarantee that will include recourse for patients who are waiting too long.

“As a parent, I know there’s nothing more heart-wrenching than seeing a child suffer,” said the Prime Minister. “Because they’re Canada’s future, our children deserve the best medical care possible delivered as promptly as possible.”

The project, which is the fourth such wait-time guarantee initiative announced to date by Canada’s New Government, will be conducted in partnership with Canada’s 16 paediatric academic health science centres under the leadership of the Paediatric Surgical Chiefs of Canada and The Hospital for Sick Children.

The announcement generated criticism from some provincial and federal observers.

Ontario Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Marie Bountrogianni said Harper should be “ashamed” for neglecting to consult the provinces before unveiling the pilot project.

Harper made the announcement at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto – a few blocks away from the Ontario legislature – and was joined at the news conference by Health Minister Tony Clement, a former Ontario cabinet minister.

“Many children do not receive the care they need in a timely manner,” Harper said. “Too often, they hear the words that haunt the entire Canadian healthcare system: ‘Sorry, you’ll just have to wait.”’

Wait times, however, are a provincial responsibility, said Bountrogianni, who was angry that the federal Conservatives failed to notify the provinces about a project she dismissed as being far too small to have much impact on wait times in Canada.

“We weren’t invited to the announcement, and I can almost understand why: it’s such an insignificant amount of money,” Bountrogianni said. “This is not the way to do intergovernmental relations in this country.” The Ontario government has spent $611 million over the last two years on its own plan to reduce wait times, which is expected to play a prominent role in this fall’s provincial election campaign.

Hiring more nurses and doctors would be a much more effective way of reducing wait times, said NDP child care critic Olivia Chow.

“Children cannot wait if they need surgery – having a pilot project and then deciding what to do is really redundant,” Chow said. “We need healthcare workers today to shorten the wait times for children, not in five years’ time.” Harper acknowledged the pilot project by itself wouldn’t solve the thorny problem of wait times in Canadian hospitals.

“We’re not going to snap our fingers and say today’s the day that wait times are solved,” he said. “It’s obviously going to take some time.” The provinces manage the existing program for reducing waiting times in five key areas, including joint replacements, heart and cataract operations and diagnostic imaging.

Harper rejected suggestions he and Clement devised their announcement to avoid having anything to do with Ontario’s Liberal government in setting up the project.

“The project in question was actually put together by the 16 pediatric hospitals themselves . . . what the federal government is announcing is their support for that initiative,” he said.

“If the province of Ontario also wanted to participate, I’m sure they would welcome that participation.”

The federal Conservatives have already announced similar wait-time initatives focused on diabetes and prenatal care for First Nations patients.