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Waiting lists unnecessarily long

“It really upsets me I can’t cuddle my grandchildren or pick them up or look after them even for half an hour … because I can’t chase after them, I can’t move fast.” 

Jenny Mckenzie, a retired senior citizen from Vancouver, shared those troubling comments with SecondStreet.org recently when we met with her to discuss her hip problems. It was hard to not get a lump in our throats when we heard her describe living in debilitating pain while waiting for an operation.

Sadly, Jenny is one of thousands of Canadians who are stuck on a waiting list and suffering. Studies suggest it doesn’t have to be this way. There are much better universal health care systems out there, which Canada could copy, without breaking the bank financially.

Before her severe hip troubles began last May, Jenny led an active lifestyle. She watched what she ate, visited the gym regularly and enjoyed walking to stay active. She had spent years working and paying taxes to support the Canadian health care system and now that it was her turn to rely on the health care system, the system let her down.

After going for a walk with a friend, Jenny began to experience severe pain in her hip. She then spoke with her doctor and was assessed by the government, scoring just 11 out of 48 (meaning her situation is quite serious).

Incredibly, Jenny was told at one point that she would have to wait until 2020 for surgery. After some persistent phone calls she’s now looking at potentially getting in by August – meaning a year on crutches and confinement to her apartment. No one would want a loved one to go through what Jenny is experiencing.

When stories such as these come to light, some say the solution is for the government to simply spend more money. But the numbers suggest money isn’t the problem.

Back in 1993, provincial government spending on health care averaged
$1,687 per person. This year the Canadian Institute for Health Information expects per person spending will reach $4,397 per person – far more than inflation.

Despite this large increase in spending, the Fraser Institute has calculated that health care waiting lists have more than doubled during this period – from
9.3 weeks to 19.8 weeks.

Part of the problem can likely be attributed to an aging population, but studies suggest we have a structural problem here in Canada.

The Commonwealth Fund, a progressive health care research body in the U.S., put out a report in 2017 that examined health care systems in 11 wealthy countries – including Canada and the U.S.

Canada ranked 9th while the U.S. came in 11
th (notably, we came in last place when it came to wait times). Clearly, Canada should not be looking to copy the U.S. health care model – and vice versa.

The United Kingdom, Australia, the Netherlands, Norway and New Zealand led the pack – and all five countries had shorter wait times. With the exception of the Netherlands, their health care systems all cost less than Canada’s.

The big takeaway is that if Canadian politicians want to provide faster care for patients like Jenny, they would be wise to spend less time throwing money at the problem and more time looking at health care models from Europe and down under.

Colin Craig is the President of SecondStreet.org
This column was published in Sun newspapers (Toronto, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Edmonton and Calgary) on February 25, 2019

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