British Columbians now face a median wait time of 25.2 weeks for medical treatment, according to a report that suggests Canadian patients now face the longest wait times in history.

The annual "Waiting Your Turn" survey from the Fraser Institute found that wait times for medically necessary treatment have increased since last year: Specialist physicians surveyed report a median wait time of 20 weeks between referral from a general practitioner to the receipt of treatment.

That's longer than the 18.3 weeks reported in 2015 – and more than double the 9.3 weeks recorded in 1993, when the right-leaning think tank began tracking wait times.

"Waiting for treatment has become a defining characteristic of Canadian health care," study authors wrote, adding that the survey included physicians from 12 specialties across 10 provinces.

Of all the provinces, New Brunswick reported the longest wait – at 38.8 weeks – while Ontario recorded the shortest, at 15.6 weeks.

Median wait time by province in 2016:

  • New Brunswick: 38.8 weeks
  • Nova Scotia: 34. 8
  • P.E.I: 31.4
  • Newfoundland and Labrador: 26
  • British Columbia: 25.2
  • Alberta: 22.9
  • Manitoba: 20.6
  • Quebec: 18.9
  • Saskatchewan: 16.6
  • Ontario: 15.6

Wait times varied greatly between specialties: The time between a GP referral and neurosurgery was a whopping 46.9 weeks, while someone waiting to see a medical oncologist began treatment in under a month – 3.7 weeks.

  • Neurosurgery: 46.9 weeks
  • Orthopaedic surgery: 38
  • Ophthalmology: 28.5
  • Plastic Surgery: 25.9
  • Otolaryngology: 22.7
  • Gynaecology: 18.8
  • Urology: 16.2
  • Internal medicine: 12.9
  • Radiation oncology: 4.1
  • General surgery: 12.1
  • Cardiovascular: 8.4
  • Medical oncology: 3.7

The Fraser Institute estimates that across 10 provinces, people are waiting for 973,505 procedures.

Study authors suggest the lengthy queues have bigger consequences than being simple inconveniences: they can also result in "increased pain, suffering, and mental anguish."

"They can also result in poorer medical outcomes—transforming potentially reversible illnesses or injuries into chronic, irreversible conditions, or even permanent disabilities," it reads.

The agency says the survey results indicate that Canadians continue to wait too long to receive treatment, despite provincial strategies aimed at reducing wait times.

Dr. Monika Dutt of the Canadian Doctors for Medicare agrees that there are concerns about wait times in Canada, but feels the study is flawed in its collection methods.

Dutt said in her practice she sees many reasons why patients face wait times, including how doctors prioritize patient care and access to services in different provinces.

“Often, as a family doc, I send off a referral to one doctor, I don’t know their wait times,” she told CTV News Channel.

“One of the best things that we can do is centralize that and have all the people needing care going to a centralized place so the first doctor that’s available sees that patient.”

In a statement to CTV News, the Canadian Medical Association said that long wait times are typically a “symptom of poor health system performance or poor co-ordination between systems that need to be addressed.”

The association is calling on governments to prioritize care for seniors in the upcoming Health Accord.

"Addressing issues related to seniors care such as ALC would go a long way in resolving unnecessary wait times for Canadian patients," the association said.


waiting your turn infographic