POLITICS

Report shows some provinces reversing recent improvements in medical wait times

06/19/2012 11:07 EDT | Updated 08/19/2012 05:12 EDT
OTTAWA - After several years of progress, it appears some provinces are slipping in their quest to reduce the time it takes to receive a number of benchmark medical treatments.

Part of the slide can be attributed to hospitals being overcrowded by elderly patients with dementia — a problem that can only get worse as the population ages, said a report from the Wait Times Alliance issued Tuesday.

"Canada needs a national dementia strategy that formally integrates the functions of primary care, specialist care and home-care services with a strong focus on keeping seniors in the community, out of the ED (emergency department) and out of hospital," the alliance recommended in its 2012 report.

The report showed a decline in performance for patients receiving care in the five government-identified priority areas — diagnostic imaging, hip and knee replacement, radiation for cancer, cataract surgery and heart bypass surgery.

Prince Edward Island received an F for knee replacements and a D for hip replacements.

Manitoba earned a D for hip and knee replacements and cataract surgery.

Ontario scored the best with As across the board and no significant changes in wait times.

"Unlike the past several years, the 2012 results show a worsening of performance with regard to patients receiving care within the pan-Canadian benchmarks set by governments," said the report.

"Although some provinces have shown improvement, the overall results point toward lengthier waits."

What's worse is that most of the figures compiled by the alliance only relate to specialist care and don't account for the time it takes to see a general practitioner or to have medical tests completed after visiting the doctor.

In its contribution to the report, the Canadian Association of Gastroenterology concluded that wait times for so-called GI procedures are up significantly in the last seven years.

"Total wait times for Canadians, considering all gastroenterology indications, have increased from 2005 to 2012 and are now 30 days longer than they were in 2005," the association said in an email.

The total wait time for a person seeking a colonoscopy, for example, is 279 days. The target wait time for the procedure is 60 days.

In another paper released Tuesday, the MacDonald-Laurier Institute called on Ottawa to reform the Canada Health Act to allow for extra-billing by doctors and experimentation by the provinces with for-profit medicare.

The paper entitled, First, Do No Harm: How the Canada Health Act Obstructs Reform and Innovation, urges the federal government to remove what it calls the "shackles" the act imposes on health care.

Serious reform can be achieved while retaining the core principles of universality and portability now found in the act, said authors Jason Clemens and Nadeem Esmail.

"In order for Canada to proceed with serious, positive, health-care reform, the CHA must be revised,” they concluded.

The paper compares Canada’s medicare system with those in other developed nations that provide universal health care.

Among the differences they found were that "all other universal health-care countries allow private, parallel, health care, where patients can choose to purchase health-care services outside of the public system."

A large majority of those same countries allow for delivery of universal care through privately owned and operated surgical facilities and hospitals.

The Liberals pointed to the alliance's report as confirmation that the country's health-care delivery problems are systemic and underscore a need for federal leadership to reform the system.

"Canadians are concerned about what this Conservative government’s lack of leadership means for the future of their universal health-care system," Liberal health critic Hedy Fry said in a statement.

"It is time that Stephen Harper stops shirking his responsibilities and convenes a meeting with first ministers to renegotiate the (2004) health accord, instead of leaving the provinces to fend for themselves."