Wait- times inch up from 2005
Tory election promise to set guarantees unfulfilled so far
Nearly a year after the federal Conservatives launched their election campaign with a promise to establish patient wait- times “ guarantees,” a new report shows the gap between seeing a doctor and getting treatment has actually increased a little.
In its 16th annual survey of hospital waiting lists, the Fraser Institute said the wait has increased to an average of 17.8 weeks this year from 17.7 weeks in 2005.
Wait- time reductions in Alberta, Ontario, and Newfoundland and Labrador were offset by increases in the other seven provinces.
The survey found that while the average time waiting for surgery or other treatment after seeing a specialist fell to 9.0 from 9.4 weeks, the time waiting to see the specialist in the first place rose to 8.8 from 8.3 weeks.
It found the shortest total waits between a general doctor and treatment was for medical oncology ( 4.9 weeks), radiation oncology ( 5.0 weeks) and elective cardiovascular surgery ( 8.0 weeks). The longest waits were for orthopedic surgery ( 40.3 weeks), and plastic surgery ( 35.4 weeks). The wait for neurosurgery ( 31.7 weeks) was up by nearly 13 weeks.
The Fraser Institute is an independent think- tank that favours “ freemarket” policies and practices and advocates more private- sector competition in the hospital and health system than now exists.
Patients continued to experience significant waiting times for CT scans ( ranging from a high of 9.0 weeks in Prince Edward Island to 4.0 weeks in Alberta, Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia); and for MRIs ( 28 weeks in Newfoundland, but 8.0 weeks in Nova Scotia); and ultrasound scans ( 8.0 weeks in Manitoba, but two weeks in Prince Edward Island).
Nadeem Esmail, Calgary- based coauthor of the study and director of health system performance at the institute, said the waiting times hover near the 18- week high reached in 2003, “ despite record levels of health spending and numerous commitments made by provincial and federal governments.”
Health Minister Tony Clement was not available for comment on the report.
The minority Conservative govern- ment’s promised health care guarantee was one of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s five priorities when he took office, along with accountability legislation, cutting the GST, supporting child care and toughening anti- crime measures.
In the budget last spring, the government pledged to fulfil the 2004 10year, $ 41- billion health care accord reached among the provinces and the defeated Liberal government. That included a $ 5.5- billion wait- times reduction fund. The government said there was no need to add more money.
The study examined the benchmarks for waiting times for medically necessary treatment agreed by the federal, provincial and territorial governments in December 2005.
It found that in many provinces more than 50 per cent of patients are being treated in a time frame that provincial governments consider “ reasonable” according to their benchmarks.
In an interview, Mr. Esmail advocated the federal government retreat from health care and leave it to the provinces, some of which are willing to introduce greater private- sector involvement. He said one government after another has been paralysed by “ the fear of Americanization of our health care system.”