Medical Waiting Lists Growing, Study Shows

Worth A Look, Healthcare & Welfare, Frontier Centre

Waits for medical treatment after seeing a specialist have jumped since the Doer government came to power in 1999, according to a new report by the Fraser Institute.

But the NDP government blames cuts to training under the former Tory government for a nursing shortage that leaves patients waiting for elective surgery and other treatment. Patients needing urgent care that cannot be postponed were not covered by the study.

Medical specialists reported treatment waiting times of 10.8 weeks in early 2002 – almost double the six weeks the specialists considered reasonable.

In 1999, the waits reported by doctors in a dozen specialties were only 5.9 weeks, according the right-wing think tank’s annual report on waiting lists across the country.

The average wait in Canada between seeing a specialist and getting treated was 9.2 weeks in 2002, with the longest waits in Saskatchewan and the shortest in Ontario.

Manitoba’s deputy minister of health, Milton Sussman, blames the province’s growing nursing shortage for the treatment delay. The number of vacant positions now stands at 1,587, compared to 1,110 in 2000.

Nine months after seeing a cardiologist, Peter Williams, 55, is still waiting for triple bypass surgery. His surgery was scheduled twice last week, but bumped because of an emergency and then because of a nursing shortage in the critical care unit.

He drove from the hospital to the legislature hoping for a meeting with Health Minister Dave Chomiak.

Williams has another surgery date scheduled for today but he doesn’t have faith it will happen.
Sussman said the province is trying to attract and retain more health-care professionals by giving nurses a hefty raise and expanding the number of health-care training positions from 1,471 in 1999 to 1,983 today. Tory health critic Myrna Driedger said moving more treatment to efficient publicly-funded private clinics would help shorten the waits. The province also needs to make detailed information on waiting times more accessible to the public, she said.

The Fraser Institute study reports that the wait to see a Manitoba specialist after a referral from a general practitioner – seven weeks – is slightly better than the Canadian average.

The 10- week wait for an ultrasound, however, is the worst among Canadian provinces.

Health researchers in Manitoba and Saskatchewan criticized the report’s methodology. Noralou Roos, director of the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy, said only 28 per cent of Manitoba specialists surveyed filled out the questionnaire.

She also said there’s evidence private clinics increase waiting times.