By Marnie Cathcart

At least 2.9 million Canadians are waiting for surgery, diagnostic scans, or specialist appointments, according to Freedom of Information (FOI) requests obtained by SecondStreet.org, a think tank. Not all provinces had data available, leading SecondStreet.org to suggest that the true total could be close to 4 million people on waiting lists.

Waiting lists are at historic highs, according to the Fraser Institute’s 2021 report, Waiting Your Turn: Wait Times for Health Care in Canada. The report said that the median wait time in 2021 was the longest recorded in the survey’s history. The figures were derived from surveying specialist physicians regarding wait times, with a median waiting time of 25.6 weeks between referral from a general practitioner and receipt of treatment. In 1993, the wait time was just 9.3 weeks, the report said. Patients who needed neurosurgical procedures waited the longest time for health care, at 49.2 weeks, while cancer patients requiring radiation typically waited 3.7 weeks, said the 2021 report.

SecondStreet.org said its research identified nearly 12,000 patients across Canada who died in 2020–2021 while on a waiting list. The patient deaths identified ranged from people waiting for potentially life-saving treatment such as heart operations, to procedures like hip operations that improve quality of life.

Majority Support Hiring Private Clinics to Solve Backlog

“Millions of Canadians don’t have a family doctor, thousands of Canadians die each year while sitting on waiting lists and stories about patients being treated in hallways are all too common. The CBC even reported that a Winnipeg emergency room was so crowded earlier this year that two patients had to share a single stretcher … Canada’s health care system was actually in a crisis before the pandemic; the pandemic made the problem worse,” according to SecondStreet.org.

A new poll commissioned by the think tank and carried out by Leger, a public opinion firm, suggests Canadians are unhappy with the current state of health care and want reform.

Seventy-two percent of Canadians asked by Leger were in agreement with Canada implementing a policy from the European Union—the “cross border directive.” It would allow patients to obtain public or private health care outside their own province, pay for surgery, and be reimbursed by their own provincial government at the same level local care would have cost.

Fourteen percent of those polled opposed the idea of inter-provincial health care funding and another 14 percent weren’t sure how they felt about it. Support for the idea was highest in Manitoba and Saskatchewan at 85 percent, and lowest in Ontario but still a majority of those polled at 69 percent.

According to SecondStreet.org, a B.C. resident can pay for private knee surgery in Alberta, and likewise, an Alberta resident can go to B.C. for private surgery, but neither of them can purchase private surgery in their own province.

Sixty-four percent of Canadians polled supported governments hiring private clinics to provide surgeries for patients to help backlogs in the public system, with only 20 percent responding that they opposed this idea.

Roughly half of Canadians who responded to this poll said Canadians should be able to spend their own money to pay for private surgery.

Sixty-six percent agreed with more government accountability. The poll specifically asked if health ministers should have to publicize the number of patients dying due to long waiting lists every year at a news conference.

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This is similar to findings, noted SecondStreet.org, of a 2020 Nanos poll in which 81 percent of Canadians answered yes to whether governments should track and disclose this information. A Leger poll obtained a similar majority at 79 percent in 2021.

The poll asked 1,534 Canadians their thoughts on health care reform between Oct. 2 and 7. The respondents to this survey were selected from Leger’s research panel, a representative sample of the broader Canadian population.

By don

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