Tragedies of a 1st World Country

Waiting for Healthcare in Canada

Why are wait times in Canada longer than almost any other developed country?

Have you or a loved one experienced first-hand how long it can take to receive treatment or get a surgery in Canada? Here are a few articles we’ve put together, giving a picture of the present state of our medical system.

In March, 2023, the CBC reported:

 “In 2022, only around half of patients had a knee replacement within the recommended six-month time frame, versus 70 per cent before COVID hit, while fewer than 60 per cent of people had hip replacements within the recommended time frame, compared to 75 per cent pre-pandemic…

Dr. Pierre Guy, president-elect of the Canadian Orthopedic Association, says the system already had a problem before the pandemic, with an estimated 160,000 or more Canadians now waiting for orthopedic operations and roughly half of those involving knee or hip replacements. 

"We have a crisis," he said.

"We can't leave the people who have pain every day, who can't go back to work, who can't pay their bills," he said. "We need to provide care for them. We need to be creative."

One earlier review of Ontario's breast, lung, colon and cervical cancer screening programs showed that in early 2020, there were initially just over 951,000, or 41 per cent, fewer screening tests conducted compared with the year before — a number that then stayed lower than pre-pandemic levels.

This drop in cancer screenings is already playing a significant role in cancers going undetected for far too long, and many people will die who could have been effectively treated.

A huge problem is a lack of primary care providers for many Canadians. A recent survey found that 22% of respondents didn’t have a family doctor or nurse practitioner they could go to with their health concerns. This often leads to issues not getting caught in time, and more pressure is put on emergency rooms and walk-in clinics.

A Fraser Institute article from December 8, 2022 titled Waiting Your Turn: Wait Times for Health Care in Canada, 2022 Report (see link here) brings even more awareness to this issue. Wait times in Canada have increased 195% since 1993! 

Specialists surveyed reported a median (average) waiting time of 27.4 weeks—over six months—between referral from a doctor to receiving treatment. Diagnostic test wait times across the provinces have also increased. This year, Canadians could expect to wait 5.4 weeks for a CT scan, 10.6 weeks for an MRI, and 4.9 weeks for an ultrasound.

Here is an example from last month of someone waiting for a life-saving surgery in Canada: 

CTV NEWS Saskatoon May 8, 2023:

“A Warman man battling a life-threatening heart condition was left waiting five hours in an Edmonton hospital bed before the surgeon came in to tell him it was cancelled. Dustin and his family booked an Airbnb for three days, and Dustin took six months off work for the procedure and the recovery…

When they do receive a new surgery date, they will go through the entire process again — resigned to the fact that they have little choice in the matter.”

This article from the Fraser Institute published recently, tells us how some provinces are dealing with the back logs. Here is a summery:

The BC government has decided to help its cancer patients in the next two years by sending many of them across the border to Washington for their radiation treatments. This is estimated to help 4,800 British Columbians. While obviously good news for many cancer patients facing long wait times for treatment in the province, it raises an important question for patients who need other types of treatment. Why doesn’t the government allow for private clinics to deliver care within our own borders? 

Our government has made it almost impossible to receive care at privately-run care centres, as they don’t allow them in the majority of Canadian provinces. Many Canadians would gladly pay out of pocket to receive a treatment—whether for a surgery or for simply for a more timely treatment—but it’s not even possible for the majority of Canadians within our borders.

One woman knows this all too well. This is an article from CNN NEWS, November 2020. Canadian woman, Shona Holmes, diagnosed with a brain tumor, sought medical care in the United States. After suffering from crushing headaches and vision problems, she was diagnosed with a brain tumor four years ago. She was told that if not removed, she could go blind or even die.

"They said to me, you have a brain tumor…pressing on your optic chasm and that it needed to come out immediately."

As a Canadian, Holmes had gone to see doctors at the Mayo Clinic in the United States, after specialists in her own government-run health care system would not see her soon enough.

"My family doctor at that time tried to get me in to see an endocrinologist and a neurologist. It was going to be four months for one specialist and six months for the other." 

Even with the warning from U.S. doctors in hand, Holmes said she still couldn't get in to see Canadian specialists. Because the government-run system is the only health care option for Canadians, she says she had no choice but to have the surgery in the U.S. Her treatment at the Mayo Clinic in Arizona cost $100,000, and she and her husband put a second mortgage on their home and borrowed from family and friends to pay for it. In a country that advertises “free healthcare,” we are witnessing far too many people falling through the cracks.

There are countless stories like this coming out of Canada, including this very tragic one from the Calgary Herald, in June 2020, of a father who needed a heart defibrillator, but our system failed him. As he posted on Facebook just months before his death,

“I was basically told that the government is willing to risk my life to save my life. They told me they’re willing to let me die, which according to them is for my own safety...”

Within two months of writing that post, he died of heart failure, leaving his two young children behind, because during Covid, the life-saving critical treatment for his heart was postponed, due to doctors being “too busy.”

There are so many tragic stories like these ones, and thousands of Canadians living in chronic pain, awaiting surgeries. Here is an excerpt from an article from CTV News published January 2022: 

“A 30-year-old Ontario woman diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer has had her surgery postponed indefinitely and says it could be too late to save her if the procedure keeps getting pushed back.”

This article from CTV News, March, 2023 speaks volumes about how back-logged surgeries are now, after the last three years:

“Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, had the largest decrease in terms of the number of surgeries not performed, with 424,000 fewer surgeries during the pandemic compared to 2019.

British Columbia and Alberta saw 78,000 fewer surgeries throughout the pandemic. Manitoba had 48,000 fewer surgeries, Saskatchewan had 37,000 fewer surgeries, Nova Scotia had 21,000 fewer surgeries, New Brunswick had 20,000 fewer surgeries, and Newfoundland and Labrador had around 34,000 fewer surgeries.”


As the Fraser Institute December, 2022 report on wait times states

Wait times can, and do, have serious consequences such as increased pain, suffering, and mental anguish. In certain instances, they can also result in poorer medical outcomes—transforming potentially reversible illnesses or injuries into chronic, irreversible conditions, or even permanent disabilities. In many instances, patients may also have to forgo their wages while they wait for treatment, resulting in an economic cost to the individuals themselves and the economy in general.”

We know Canada can do better. But the current system is so broken, it will likely have to get even worse before changes for the better will occur. Private clinics would be a huge step in the right direction, but there is a lot of power at the top keeping private or “for profit” clinics (as they often get called) from being allowed in our country. And the argument is usually that if opened, private clinics would take doctors from the public sector. But many countries such as England and Australia have both options, and Canada had a privately-run system in the past.

Many people are looking into being treated in places like Mexico, where healthcare is generally quite easy to access and quite affordable.