Says Newfoundland one of two provinces falling behind
A group that tracks how long it takes to get medical care in Canada says there's a "black hole" of data on wait times for procedures outside of five identified priority areas.
The Wait Time Alliance also reported Thursday on pediatric surgeries for the first time, saying that although 73 per cent of children received their surgeries within an established benchmark time, more than 17,000 kids waited longer for their surgery last year than medical experts recommend.
It has been six years since Canada's first ministers committed to reducing wait times in the five priority areas - diagnostic imaging, hip and knee replacements, cancer care, sight restoration and cardiac surgery - and the alliance noted there has been "slow improvement."
"But the big picture is that far too many Canadians still experience long waits for needed medical care, and are kept in the dark about the wait they can expect to face," Dr. Lorne Bellan, co-chair of the Wait Time Alliance, said in a conference call.
"Doctors who work on the front lines know that's just not enough progress. In the wait times marathon, we're still on the first mile."
Two provinces were singled out for not doing enough to keep their populations up to date.
"It is very troubling that Alberta and Newfoundland have failed to update their wait time data for more than six months," Bellan said.
"We really don't have a current picture of wait times in those provinces."
He also said that based on Wait Time Alliance benchmarks, Alberta gets an F and a D for cancer radiation therapy.
"This means that roughly half of all cancer patients wait longer than is considered safe by Canada's cancer specialists," Bellan said.
"The scientific evidence is clear. The wait for radiotherapy should be as short as possible. Canada's cancer specialists believe that long waits for cancer radiotherapy are putting patients' lives at risk."
In terms of non-priority areas, the alliance's report card said information is scarce or non-existent, and where it does exist, nearly half of all patients are waiting longer than is medically acceptable.
And in its section devoted to pediatrics, the report card said that delays in performing surgery on children can have a lifelong impact.
"Grades of D in ophthalmology and dentistry mean nearly half of all children wait longer than medically acceptable for these areas, jeopardizing normal vision and speech and brain development," Bellan said.
The issues in dentistry revolve around kids needing procedures for tooth decay, while the ophthalmology queues are driven by those needing surgery for the condition known as wandering eye. In addition, there's demand for plastic surgery to address a cleft lip and-or cleft palate.
The alliance also graded the provinces on how well they publicize wait times on their websites.
"Patients deserve accurate and timely information on the wait they can expect to face," Bellan said. "Ontario, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick have some of the better wait time websites, but there is great variability in the quality of provincial wait time reporting."