Canadian health-care planners have known for decades that the “grey tsunami” was approaching. They’ve had plenty of time to prepare for an aging population.
Yet Canada ranks last among 11 countries in a newly released survey of access to medical care by older patients. More than half of Canadians over 55 wait at least two days to see a family doctor or nurse, according to a report last week by the Canadian Institute for Health Information. Older Canadians also wait longer to see a specialist than those in Australia, New Zealand, the United States, Britain, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland.
The problem is not money. Canada spends more per capita on health care than most of the other countries in the survey ($6,045 per person, exceeded only by the U.S. figure of $8,895).
Nor is it a shortage of family doctors. That might have been the case at the turn of the millennium. But since 2007, the supply of physicians has increased three times faster than the growth of population. Canada now has 214 doctors per 100,000 patients, a ratio comparable to its peers.
That points to poor planning. Canadian doctors aren’t available where – or when – older patients need them. Many choose to work in large urban centres. Some prefer young, healthy patients without time-consuming chronic illnesses. Few provide after-hours or weekend care. Almost none make house calls.
There aren’t enough geriatric care teams or community health centres. Nurse practitioners don’t do nearly as much as they could. The health-care system is difficult for seniors – and nearly everybody else – to navigate.
None of this is news to policy-makers. Ontario’s Action Plan for Health Care states clearly: “Our population age structure is changing. We’re living longer and baby boomers are reaching the age where they’ll need more health care. Just as our education system responded decades ago to the baby boom, today’s health-care system must now prepare for the demographic shift that will double the number of seniors living in Ontario over the next 20 years.”
Judging from Canada’s sub-par performance, they aren’t preparing nearly well enough or fast enough. Taxpayers deserve an explanation. Older patients and those coming along behind them need much speedier improvement.