Saskatchewan’s Surgical Wait Times Rated The Worst In Canada

Commentary, Frontier Centre, Healthcare, Media Appearances

Saskatchewan’s wait times are looking sickly when compared to their provincial counterparts.

On Tuesday, the Frontier Centre for Public Policy released the 2009 Canada Health Consumer Index, which measured quality indicators that combined to give each provincial health-care system a score out of 1,000 points.

Saskatchewan ranked ninth out of 10 provinces with a score of 600 points — a standing identical to last year’s report. Ontario again finished first with 831 points out of 1,000.

“That gap of 231 comes across so many different indicators and in such a wide range of areas that we can, with confidence, assert that it illustrates a problem between that lower-performing group and the higher-performing group,” said Ben Eisen, author of the report and a policy analyst with the Frontier Centre.

He attributed Saskatchewan’s low score primarily to long waits for care.

“Any time these reports come out, whether you agree with the way they gathered the data or not, we don’t want to be on the bottom,” said Health Minister Don McMorris. “So we’re taking steps and we’ve been working on it for the last couple of years.”

The government is committed to reducing the province’s surgical wait times to no longer than three months within four years, he said.

“I really do think that, in the next three years, you’ll see our standing elevate quite a bit,” McMorris said.

Saskatchewan earned the worst score in Canada in the wait times category with 143 out of 300 possible points. Ontario — the top province — scored 257 out of 300. Wait times were measured in seven areas including hip fracture and cataract restoration surgeries.

The national bench mark for hip fracture surgery is that waits shouldn’t exceed two days. That goal was met for 68 per cent of patients in B.C. — one of higher performing provinces — compared to 48.2 per cent in Saskatchewan.

"That was the lowest rate in Canada," Eisen said. "The national rate was closer to 60 per cent."

Ensuring there is enough health-care workers to perform more surgeries is challenging, McMorris said.

"Increasing the number of seats for nurses, increasing the number of medical training seats and the number of residencies significantly in the first couple of years of our government will pay dividends — unfortunately, they are not immediate," he said.

Waits for cataract restoration surgery was an area where Saskatchewan was among the best.

"It took only 38 days after the decision to treat and that’s substantially lower than several other provinces, including Manitoba, where it was almost twice as high at 75 days," Eisen said.

He said wait times are the biggest problem with Canadian health care.

"We do an international comparison with Europe whereby we take Canada’s overall performance across the 10 provinces and compare it to the top European systems and we find our wait times in Canada are much, much longer than what most European countries experience. Ontario is our best jurisdiction, but compared to the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark, the wait times aren’t anything to boast about."

Primary care is another weak area for Saskatchewan. This year, the province earned 90 out of 150 points compared to 88 out of 150 points last year.

"It was towards the bottom of the pack overall," said Eisen, who added the lack of family doctors contributed to Saskatchewan’s poor showing.

About 82 per cent of Saskatchewan residents had a regular family doctor compared to the top province, Nova Scotia, where 94 of residents had a regular doc.

McMorris said the number of family physicians and specialists in Saskatchewan is below the national average, which is why the government created the physician recruitment strategy and the new physician recruitment agency.

"We need to do a better job in recruiting and that’s why we’ve structured the agency," he said. "It starts at home. We have a number of Saskatchewan grads that look at other provinces before they look here. That’s the way it used to be with nurses and we turned that around. We’ll start turning it around for physicians."