A doctors' group is calling for national benchmarks aimed at shortening wait times for patients seeking care in hospital emergency departments.
The Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians (CAEP) says contrary to popular belief, emergency room overcrowding is not caused by inappropriate use or by patients without their own doctors.
The organization says the primary reason for overcrowding is due to ER patients who need admission being unable to access hospital beds.
CAEP says "access block" can be caused by an inadequate number of acute-care beds or beds taken up by patients waiting for transfer to community facilities.
It wants national ER wait-time benchmarks established and hospitals' performance in reaching those targets publicly reported.
The group says ER overcrowding is a public-health emergency that results in worse outcomes for patients, including higher death rates.
In 2009, Canada had only 1.7 acute-care beds per 1,000 Canadians, ranking 33rd out of 34 Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development countries, says the CAEP position paper released Wednesday. The OECD average was 3.4 per 1,000.
"The lack of acute-care beds in Canada means that most hospitals frequently operate at unsustainable occupancy rates of higher than 95 per cent, a level at which regular bed shortages, periodic bed crises, and hospital overcrowding are inevitable," the CAEP writes.