B.C. performs worse than several other provinces when it comes to meeting recommended waiting times for various medical procedures, including cancer radiation therapy, a federal report released today shows.
Benchmarks are defined as “evidence-based goals each province or territory strives to meet.” They reflect the maximum waiting time that medical experts consider appropriate to wait for a particular procedure.
The Canadian Institute for Health Information report shows that while there are glimmers of improvement in some categories, B.C. generally lags behind a handful of other provinces.
For hip replacements, for example, 67 per cent of patients got their surgery in B.C. within the recommended six months in 2018, compared to 61 per cent in 2016. The national average in 2018, however, was 75 per cent. And in Ontario, 84 per cent of patients got surgery within the time period; in Quebec, 80 per cent.
Long waiting times are generally a function of operating rooms being available for surgeons and other resources like funding, hospital beds, nurses for the operating rooms, recovery and ward beds.
For knee replacements, 59 per cent of B.C. residents got the surgery within the six-month recommended time. That was an improvement over 47 per cent in 2016, but again, lower than the national average of 69 per cent.
For cataract surgery, 64 per cent of B.C. residents got the cataract removal procedure within the recommended wait of four months for high-risk patients. That was slightly worse than in 2016 when it was 66 per cent of patients. The federal average in 2018 was 70 per cent.
For procedures that are especially time-sensitive, B.C. was near the bottom.
For hip fracture repairs, it is recommended that patients wait no longer than 48 hours. In 2018, 85 per cent of B.C. patients got surgery within the recommended time; the national statistic was 88 per cent. Alberta was tops at 94 per cent meeting the benchmark. Only Saskatchewan and Prince Edward Island had longer waiting times than B.C. on this measure.
On radiation therapy, B.C. had the worst ranking with 93 per cent of patients getting treatment within the benchmark of 28 days. The other provinces reported that 95 to 100 per cent of patients were treated within 28 days.
The B.C. Health ministry says on its website that the number of patients waiting for radiation in 2017/18 rose to a high of 467 and the number of cancer patients who got radiation therapy in 2017 declined substantially to 10,663, from about 13,000 from 2015. It is unclear if far fewer patients required radiation or whether B.C. Cancer can’t offer it to as many patients as in prior years.
In an emailed statement, Health Minister Adrian Dix said the report shows B.C. is on “the right track” to improving surgical care, especially for case types that have the longest waiting times.
“We are seeing improvements throughout the health authorities. For example, Island Health’s rate for hip replacements within the benchmark went from 45 per cent in 2016 to 49 per cent in 2017 and 66 per cent in 2018. The rate for knee replacements was even more stunning: In 2016, 29 per cent; in 2017, 32 per cent and in 2018, 57 per cent.
“We know there is more work to do (and) our surgical and diagnostic strategy is not a one-time effort. It is a multi-year plan that is supported with ongoing targeted funding of $75 million starting in 2018-19, and increasing to $100 million in 2019-20,” Dix said, noting that targeted funding should ensure that other surgeries, besides the ones benchmarked, don’t fall behind.
Bacchus Barua, associate director of health policy studies at the conservative think-tank, Fraser Institute, said the CIHI reports shows that many British Columbians still do not receive their treatments within “remarkably long pan-Canadian benchmarks.
“Our own annual survey of waiting times reveals that while the total wait time (between referral from a family doctor to treatment) across 12 specialties has fallen in B.C. between 2016 and 2018, last year’s 23.2-week median wait is nevertheless more than twice as long as the 10.4 week wait time in 1993.
“Wait times are not benign inconveniences. They can, and do, have a real impact on patients’ lives,” he said.