Ever increasing waiting times are resulting in healthcare becoming rationed in Canada, that was the warning given by Senior economist at the Fraser’s Institute for Health Policy Studies, Bacchus Barua, this week.
Since 1993 GP waiting times in the country have nearly doubled, whilst the average waiting time for a routine hip or knee replacement currently sits at just under six months.
Barua argues that only clever manipulation of the statistics by those who release them prevent the issue from gaining more publicity, and showing just how much the state funded health system is struggling to deal with the ever increasing demand.
The headline from the latest published stats read “Shorter waits for hip fracture repairs - and eight out of ten Canadians are receiving ‘priority procedures’ within government defined benchmarks”. This appears impressive initially, until you note that two out of every ten Canadian Health Service patients are not receiving treatment for, what the government themselves have labelled as, ‘priority procedures’ within the extremely generous six month benchmark that was decided on by the CIHI (Canadian Institute of Healthcare Information).
The ‘feel good’ tone of the story is acting simply as a distraction from where the real issue is. The Canadian Healthcare system’s failure to provide timely care to its patients when they need it.
Barua further warns in his article that Physicians believe patients generally wait three weeks longer than is ‘clinically reasonable’ to receive treatment after meeting with a specialist. This begs the question, how did Canada - the 15th wealthiest nation in the world based on GDP - get into this situation, and what can be done to get the system back on track?
Financing the health service is not where the issue lies. Many provincial governments currently allocate around 40% of their annual budget to the healthcare system - and to expect much more would be unreasonable.
The issue therefore is mainly as a result of two larger factors. The irresponsible overuse of the health service, and the government’s discouragement of a private healthcare system that would surely act as a pressure relief valve to the struggling state system.
Users of the Canadian health system face no incentives to use the state funded service responsibly. Understandably therefore this leads to it being abused by some, who saturate an already stretched service.
Furthermore the private system in Canada remains small, and is hindered by government policies such as the ‘Canadian health act’ - which restricts the fees that private hospitals can charge patients with insurance. This combined with policies which prevent cost sharing makes life extremely difficult for private providers of care.
The Canadian government must surely be re-considering their laws which strictly control the private healthcare industry as the state system continues to fail to cope with demand. Instead however, Barua argues, it appears to be openly trying to convince everyone - perhaps including itself - that everything is fine, and working as efficiently as it should be.
A risky move that looks as if it will only continue the current trend of spiraling waiting times for those in urgent need of medical help.