Waiting for your turn: Report shows Canada’s health-care wait times hit 27.7 weeks in 2023—longest ever recorded


VANCOUVER, BC: Canadian patients waited longer than ever this year for medical treatment, finds a new study released by the Fraser Institute, an independent, Canadian public policy think-tank.
Waiting for treatment has become a defining characteristic of Canadian health care. In order to document the queues for visits to specialists and for diagnostic and surgical procedures in the country, the Fraser Institute has—for almost three decades—surveyed specialist physicians across 12 specialties and 10 provinces. This edition of Waiting Your Turn indicates that, overall, waiting times for medically necessary treatment have increased since last year
The study reports a median wait time of 27.7 weeks—the longest ever recorded, longer than the wait of 27.4 weeks reported in 2022—and 198 per cent higher than the 9.3 weeks Canadians waited in 1993, when the Fraser Institute began tracking wait times.
“COVID-19 and related hospital closures have exacerbated, but are not the cause, of Canada’s historic wait times challenges,” said Bacchus Barua, director of the Fraser Institute’s Centre for Health Policy Studies and co-author of Waiting Your Turn: Wait Times for Health Care in Canada, 2023.
“Previous results revealed that patients waited an estimated 20.9 weeks for medically necessary elective care in 2019—long before the pandemic started.”
The study examines the total wait time faced by patients across 12 medical specialties from referral by a general practitioner (i.e. family doctor) to consultation with a specialist, to when the patient ultimately receives treatment.
More than 1,200 responses were received across the 12 specialities and 10 provinces. There is a great deal of variation in the total waiting time faced by patients across the provinces. Ontario reports the shortest total wait—21.6 weeks—while Nova Scotia reports the longest—56.7 weeks. There is also a great deal of variation among specialties. Patients wait longest between a GP referral and plastic surgery (52.4 weeks), while those waiting for radiation treatments begin treatment in 4.4 weeks.
Among the provinces, Ontario recorded the shortest wait time at 21.6 weeks—still up from 20.3 weeks in 2022. Nova Scotia recorded the longest wait time in Canada at 56.7 weeks.
Among the various specialties, national wait times were longest between a referral by a GP and plastic (52.4 weeks), orthopaedic (44.3) neurosurgery (43.5). Wait times were shortest for radiation (4.4 weeks) and medical oncology treatments (4.8 weeks).
Patients also experience significant waiting times for various diagnostic technologies. This year, Canadians could expect to wait 6.6 weeks for a computed tomography (CT) scan, 12.9 weeks for a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, and 5.3 weeks for an ultrasound.
Crucially, physicians report that their patients are waiting over four and a half weeks longer for treatment (after seeing a specialist) than what they consider to be clinically reasonable.
“Excessively long wait times remain a defining characteristic of Canada’s health-care system” said Mackenzie Moir, Fraser Institute policy analyst and co-author of the report.
“And they aren’t simply minor inconveniences, they can result in increased suffering for patients, lost productivity at work, a decreased quality of life, and in the worst cases, disability or death.”