The latest government data indicates that 3.2 million Canadians are on a waitlist for surgery, a diagnostic scan, or specialist treatment, according to think tank SecondStreet.org.
The latest data also suggests that 41,487 patients have died on a waiting list since 2018–2019.
This estimate includes cases where patients died while waiting for surgeries that could have potentially saved their lives. For instance, in 2020–21, the Nova Scotia Health Authority noted there were 367 patients who died while waiting for surgery, and of those, 51 died while waiting for a procedure that could have potentially saved their life.
Of the 51 cases, “just over three quarters” died after waiting longer than the recommended wait time, according to SecondStreet.org.
The nonprofit think tank tracks government data on the canadawaits.ca website and uses Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to obtain the information, although data provided by governments is often incomplete.
The true total on the waitlists is conservatively estimated to be 3.8 million with adjustments for the missing data, according to SecondStreet.org.
“Most provinces do not have estimates on the number of patients waiting to see a specialist. Further, some don’t know how many patients are waiting for diagnostic scans,” said a Jan. 30 news release.
“Health care spending has exploded over the past three decades yet waiting lists continue to get worse,” said Colin Craig, president of the think tank.
“Behind these statistics are countless stories of patients suffering,” he added.
Only six provinces report waitlists for specialists, with the largest number of patients waiting in Quebec, at 793,658, followed by Alberta at 175,849. The waitlist for surgeons was lowest in the Northwest Territories at 443, followed by Yukon at 2,602.
Eight provinces could not provide data on how many patients were waiting to see a specialist, and some regions could not provide details on patients waiting for a scan or surgery.
SecondStreet.org said that an investigation into cases of patients dying on waiting lists has suggested that many health authorities in Canada simply don’t track this data (including most of Quebec and Newfoundland), and most don’t analyze the data they do track.
Canadians in Ontario have the most patients waiting for surgery, with 206,000 patients on the list, closely followed by Quebec at 160,684. Alberta has 75,483 patients waiting for surgery, with British Columbia at 88,804.
Breaking down the total of 3.2 million on the three waitlists, 645,070 total Canadians are waiting for surgery, while 1,105,287 are waiting for consult with a specialist, and 1,533,624 are waiting for diagnostic procedures.
The think tank notes that a Jan. 16 Ontario government news release put the total surgical waitlist numbers at 206,000. However, SecondStreet.org stated it received a FOI request response from Ontario Health indicating the waitlist was 220,349 as of Dec. 1, 2022.
Alberta had a significant drop in the number of patients waiting for a diagnostic scan since the last reporting period, falling from 108,782 in May 2022 to 93,737 in December. However, in terms of surgeries, Alberta had a very slight increase, going from 75,274 patients on the waitlist to 75,483.
Manitoba and Saskatchewan also saw relatively minor changes in their waitlists, while Newfoundland and Labrador reported that the number of patients waiting for diagnostic scans rose from 51,656 to 74,984.