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Waiting times for priority surgery improves

Dr. Allan Gross performs a hip replacement surgery at Mount Sinai Hospital on Oct. 28, 2005.

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail/Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

Seven years after Canada's first ministers committed to reducing surgery waiting times, about 80 per cent of patients are getting their procedures within medically recommended times - at least in the priority areas.



New data collected by the Canadian Institute for Health Information shows that waiting times for the priority procedures have generally improved, as has collection of information now that provinces are using common definitions of waits and benchmarks.



"Is 80 per cent good enough? Likely not," said Tracy Johnson, manager of special projects at the institute.

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In fact, the new findings show there are significant variations in waiting times between provinces, and likely within regions and individual institutions. Overall, patients in the most populous provinces - Ontario, Quebec and B.C. - tend to fare better than those in smaller provinces. In smaller provinces especially, seemingly minor issues like the loss of a single orthopedic surgeon can result in a sharp increase in waiting times.



"A number of provinces have a ways to go," Ms. Johnson said. But she noted that, for the first time, it is possible to measure and compare waiting times between provinces.



In the past year, about 400,000 surgical procedures have been performed in the priority areas - hip and knee replacement, hip fracture repairs, heart bypass surgery, radiation treatment for cancer, and cataract surgery.



In 2004, those priorities were identified and $5.5-billion allocated to reducing waiting times in those areas. Below is a look at the priority areas, and how the provinces are faring in achieving benchmarks.





HIP REPLACEMENTS



Benchmark : 26 weeks



Patients getting prompt care: 84 per cent

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Best record: Ontario, 91 per cent



Worst record: Nova Scotia, 57 per cent



Trend: Waiting times are improving



KNEE REPLACEMENTS



Benchmark : 26 weeks



Patients getting prompt care: 79 per cent

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Best record: Ontario, 89 per cent



Worst record: Nova Scotia, 42 per cent



Trend: Waiting times increasing



SURGERY FOR HIP FRACTURE



Benchmark : 48 hours



Patients getting prompt care: 78 per cent



Best record: Manitoba, 82 per cent



Worst record: Saskatchewan, 72 per cent



Trend: Waiting times unchanged



CATARACTS - HIGH RISK



Benchmark : 16 weeks



Patients getting prompt care: 83 per cent



Best record: New Brunswick, 89 per cent



Worst record: Alberta, 48 per cent



Trend: Waiting times increasing



CARDIAC BYPASS SURGERY



Benchmark : 2-26 weeks depending on severity



Patients getting prompt care: 99 per cent



Best record: Saskatchewan, Ontario, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland - 100 per cent



Worst record: Alberta, 95 per cent



Trend: Data lacking on waiting times according to urgency



RADIATION THERAPY - CANCER



Benchmark : 4 weeks



Patients getting prompt care: 98 per cent



Best record: Manitoba, 100 per cent



Worst record: Nova Scotia, 85 per cent



Trend: Waits for MRIs longer than for CT scans

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About the Author
Public health reporter

André Picard is a health reporter and columnist at The Globe and Mail, where he has been a staff writer since 1987. He is also the author of three bestselling books.André has received much acclaim for his writing. More

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