Toronto Star's View: Ottawa should lead on wait...
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Dec 14, 2015  |  Vote 0    0

Toronto Star's View: Ottawa should lead on wait times

The new Liberal government should not hesitate to take a more active role in charting national solutions to lengthy wait times for medical services


Canadians take a lot of pride in our health care system. But when it comes to something as basic as how long we have to wait for vital services, there’s increasing evidence that we are settling for second best.

Two new reports out last week came to a very similar conclusion: patients across the country are waiting a long time for care, and efforts to reduce wait times are having little effect.

The good news is that things aren’t getting worse. One of the reports, from the Fraser Institute, found that the time between seeing a specialist and getting treatment averages 18.3 weeks across the country, almost unchanged from the 18.2 weeks measured in 2014. (Ontario and Saskatchewan score best.)

The bad news is that is double the time (9.3 weeks) recorded in 1993 when the institute began studying these things. Apparently we’ve become accustomed to waiting much longer for treatment than we once did, and that isn’t a good sign.

The other study, by the Wait Time Alliance, found some improvement in wait times in five key areas (including hip and knee replacements, cardiac operations and cataract surgery), but concluded that progress in other areas is “spotty.”

More worryingly, the group raises an alarm about wait times in areas that are fast becoming the key areas of concern as the population ages: home care and long-term care. Only Ontario, to its credit, reports on wait times to access home care – an area that the province’s auditor general just found to be a growing problem.

The other provinces don’t even report those numbers. But as more and more health services are being delivered outside the traditional hospital setting, the alliance concludes, it’s vital that all provinces make the information public so that policy makers can work out a strategy to cope with the fast-growing population of seniors.

Back in 2004, Ottawa and the provinces reached a national health accord that provided major additional funding, partly to reduce wait times in the five areas it identified then.

But times, and priorities, have changed. The two reports appear a month before the federal and provincial governments are due to start talks on a new health agreement. The Wait Time Alliance, which includes major doctors’ groups, concludes that Ottawa can play a leading role in developing a “robust national seniors’ strategy” to reduce waste, keep costs low, improve access and ensure that comparable services are offered across the country.

The Harper government mostly stood on the sidelines as these slow-moving problems developed. The new Liberal government should not hesitate to take a more active role in charting national solutions to what are undeniably national challenges.

Toronto Star

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