Ottawa Citizen

Wait- times inch up from 2005

Tory election promise to set guarantees unfulfille­d so far

- BY JULIET O’NEILL

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.”

 ?? WAYNE CUDDINGTON, THE OTTAWA CITIZEN ?? The Fraser Institute, a free- market think- tank, says waits have decreased in only Ontario, Alberta and Newfoundla­nd.
WAYNE CUDDINGTON, THE OTTAWA CITIZEN The Fraser Institute, a free- market think- tank, says waits have decreased in only Ontario, Alberta and Newfoundla­nd.

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