In Canada, where government provides health care for all of its citizens, the average wait time for life-threatening cancer treatment is seven weeks and the average wait time is nine hours for emergency visits.
“A median of seven weeks for cancer treatments? That means half the patients in this study waited even longer than that. Would someone be able to survive that long with no treatment?” asked a Senate GOP aide.
The information was released in an annual report produced by the Wait Time Alliance, comprised of Canadian doctors who are concerned over delayed access to care. The WTA was formed after the Canadian government vowed to reduce wait times in 2005, committing over $4.5 billion between 2005 and 2011.
The title of the WTA report, “Unfinished Business,” highlighted the glacial progress the country has made since that commitment.
“Although there are signs of improvement, the lack of uniform and timely information on wait times is just one symptom of the ‘unfinished business’ relating to wait times in Canada,” the WTA reported.
Psychiatric care averaged 5.7 weeks, nearly two weeks longer than was recommended by the Canadian Psychiatric Association’s maximum recommended wait time of four weeks. Eighteen weeks usually goes by before a patient is seen by a specialist after receiving a referral from his physician, with particularly egregious waits in the areas of ophthalmology, obstetrics and gynecology, gastroenterology, plastic surgery and orthopedics.
"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. Lorne Bellan, WTA co-chair, in a release. "Our study shows that for many medical specialties in Canada that we examined, we don't even come close to that."
Sixty-two percent of specialists believed wait times would increase over the next five years, according to the WTA. Between 23% and 37% of physicians refused to take referred patients outright.
The report also complained that in more than a few provinces, there was no way to track wait times, meaning that the possibility for decreasing wait times is poor. In Newfoundland and Labrador, no mechanism exists for monitoring wait times
"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 Bellan. "We need to do a better job of tracking and reporting on the full wait that patients experience to access necessary medical care."