OTTAWA—Many Canadian patients are waiting longer for treatments such as cataract surgery and hip and knee replacements than they were a year ago, says a report measuring wait times nationwide.
“After making progress in recent years, at least against government benchmarks, it now appears some provinces are being left behind in the battle to reduce the time patients wait for health care,” Dr. Chris Simpson, chair of the Wait Time Alliance, a coalition of physicians groups, said in a news release Tuesday.
“There should be no ‘have not’ patients in Canada,” Simpson, also a cardiologist in Kingston, Ont., said in the statement.
The Wait Times Alliance began issuing national report cards five years ago to measure how provinces were living up to their 2004 Health Accord commitments to reduce wait times for joint replacement, diagnostic imaging, cardiac surgery, sight restoration and cancer treatment.
It is not yet known whether provinces will negotiate similar commitments for the new funding agreement that will replace the 2004 accord when it expires in two years.
The Conservative government announced last fall that Ottawa would scale back the yearly increases in health transfer payments by tying them to the rate of economic growth plus inflation beginning in 2016.
The 2012 report card issued Tuesday showed no change in grades for the national average.
That means good news for cancer patients waiting for radiation therapy and those waiting for a coronary bypass.
They both received an “A” grade, meaning that at least 80 per cent of the people requiring those treatments received them within the benchmark set by governments — four weeks for radiation and 26 weeks for heart surgery.
Hip replacements, which have a 26-week benchmark, and cataract surgery, where the target is 16 weeks, received a national grade of “B,” meaning that 70 to 79 per cent of patients were treated within that time limit.
Knee replacements, which provincial governments agreed should not take longer than 26 weeks to receive, received a “C” grade, which means that 60 to 69 per cent of patients were treated by the deadline.
The report shows not every province is performing at the same level.
Ontario received “A” grades in each of the five categories, but two provinces — Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia — received the failing grade of “F” for knee replacements.
In those provinces, says the report card, less than half the patients requiring knee replacements received them by the end of 26 weeks.
This year, the Wait Times Alliance decided to expand its report card beyond the five priority areas identified in the 2004 Health Accord — a decade-long agreement that set the level of health transfers from the federal government to provinces — to look at other treatments.
The report card notes that provinces had agreed to “start” with reducing wait times in the five key areas, “not to begin and end with them”.
Using ideal wait times set by the alliance, the report card gave a failing grade to Ontario for how long admitted patients remained in the emergency room before being given a bed, but awarded the province an “A” for non-admitted patients who arrive at emergency in various levels of distress.
Ontario and Alberta were the only two provinces that made emergency-room wait times available, so it is difficult to determine how they stack up against the rest.
Ontario also received an “F” for having fewer than 50 per cent of patients receive breast cancer reconstruction surgery within four weeks.
British Columbia, the only other province with data on those wait times, also received a failing grade.
Many of the benchmarks — including those set by the government — measure the amount of time patients have to wait between visiting a specialist and receiving whatever treatment that specialist decided they need.
The report notes that patients measure this time differently — beginning from the onset of illness — and that it can often take far longer to find a family doctor or wait for an appointment with a specialist than it does to receive treatment.
“Waiting for specialist treatment is really just the tip of the iceberg, and when you add up all the waiting periods endured by patients, the total wait for care can be very lengthy,” Simpson said in the release.