May 23rd, 2024

Canadians waiting longer for priority procedures

By Delon Shurtz - Lethbridge Herald on April 5, 2024.


Wait times for priority procedures such as hip and knee replacements and cancer surgeries are longer than before the COVID-19 pandemic, new data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) reveals.

“While more patients are receiving care within recommended benchmarks after a significant dip at the beginning of the pandemic, Canadians are still waiting longer than they did in 2019, before the pandemic,” Cheryl Chui, director of health system analytics at CIHI, says in a news release.

Chui adds, however, “we’re starting to see an increase in surgical volumes, which is a good sign after more than two years of decreased numbers. It’s an important step in reducing backlogs and providing more timely care.”

In Alberta in 2023, only 59 per cent of patients waiting for hip replacements were treated within the benchmark of 26 weeks, and 49 per cent of patients were treated within a 26-week benchmark for knee replacement.

Across Canada in 2023, 66 per cent of patients received hip replacement surgery within the 26-week benchmark, compared with 75 per cent in 2019, even though there was an 18-per-cent increase in the number of procedures. And 59 per cent of patients received knee replacement surgery within the 26-week benchmark, compared with 70 per cent in 2019, despite a 15 per cent increase in the number of procedures.

Other key findings indicate 94 per cent of patients Canada-wide received radiation therapy within the recommended time frame, compared with 97 per cent in 2019, and the percentage of patients receiving emergency hip fracture repair within the recommended time frame of 48 hours was 82 per cent in 2023 and 86 per cent in 2019.

Compared with 2019, the median wait times for breast, bladder, colorectal and lung cancer surgery increased to four days from two, while the median wait increased by 11 days for prostate cancer. The median wait times for CT and MRI scans increased by four and seven days, respectively, compared with 2019.

Although CIHI does not provide any conclusions or determine why wait times have increased, it’s not hard to figure out.

“The whole point of our project is to collect data that’s comparable across Canada,” Reason says. “We tend not to make judgments and conclusions.”

Generally speaking, however, Reason says many procedures were cancelled or postponed during COVID, and that caused a backlog that is still being dealt with. There has also been a shortage of doctors and nurses in certain areas.

“Also, the fact that Canada’s population is growing and aging, so a lot of these procedures is going to persistently increase the demand, so the system seems to be struggling to keep up with that increase in demand.”

There is some good news, Reason adds.

“What is interesting is that cataract surgery at the Canada level has returned to exactly what it was pre-pandemic, so that’s kind of a good-news story. Seventy per cent of patients treated within benchmarks in 2019 is suddenly back up to 70 per cent in 2023.”

Urgent procedures such as radiation therapy and hip fracture therapy are also doing relatively well, even if not quite as well as in 2019.

“Although it’s still not as good as it was in 2019, it’s 94 per cent for radiation therapy and 82 per cent for hip fracture therapy, so generally speaking…Canada is doing reasonably well with their urgent procedures compared to elective procedures; the cataracts and the joint replacements.”

Since 2004, when Canada’s first ministers agreed to work to reduce wait times, provincial governments have worked with CIHI to improve public wait time reporting for cancer treatment, cardiac care, diagnostic imaging, joint replacement and sight restoration.

The CIHI is an independent, not-for-profit organization that provides essential health information to Canadians. It works closely with federal, provincial and territorial partners and stakeholders throughout Canada to gather, package and disseminate information to inform policy, management, care and research, leading to better and more equitable health outcomes for all Canadians.

In a Thursday statement to media, NDP critic for Health Dr. Luanne Metz said the report “proves that the UCP’s contracts with private surgical centres are not helping patients get access to timely, critically needed surgeries nor clearing the backlog to access care.

“The UCP’s expensive gamble with private surgical clinics isn’t helping patients. Fewer than half of knee replacements and only 59 per cent of hip replacements were completed within the acceptable wait time standard. Thousands of Albertans are waiting in agony for far too long for medical procedures that impact the quality of their lives.”

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