According to research by Regina-based think tank SecondStreet.org, Canada’s public health care system is having serious problems meeting patient demand. From April 2019 to December 2020, some 10,000 Canadians died waiting for medical care.
SecondStreet.org president Colin Craig recounted in a column for the Toronto Sun newspaper some of the tragic stories of Canadian patients who died on a waiting list.
“Judy Anderson, a retired nurse from Port Perry, Ontario, told us about losing not one but two daughters due to excessive waiting periods in the health care system. It’s a tragedy for any parent to have to bury one child, but twice is beyond heartbreaking,” Craig wrote. “Most recently, Judy’s daughter Shannon was told she would have to wait a month for a heart procedure as the health care system was focussed on COVID-19. The weeks of waiting for treatment proved to be too much for Shannon’s heart; four children have lost their mother.”
The data is alarming and stark, according to Craig, the think tank collected “over 30 health regions and hospitals for data on patients passing away while waiting for surgery, procedures, diagnostic scans and appointments with specialists. From April 1, 2019 to December 31, 2020, SecondStreet.org obtained government data showing over 10,000 patient deaths.”
The types of surgery varied. Some, for example, were operations that could directly save a life (such as a cardiac one) or others that could significantly improve a person’s quality of life (knee surgeries, hips, etc.). The latter, while not necessarily life-threatening, are vital for patients to overcome chronic pain or severe discomfort.
Canadians continue to suffer
Another key section of the report is that, as Craig relates, “patients often waited well beyond government targets for receiving treatment. For example, one Nova Scotia patient waited 2,283 days (more than six years) for hernia surgery before passing away.”
Another case is that of 18-year-old Laura Hillier of Burlington, Ontario, “diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in 2015. She needed a bone marrow transplant, but she had to wait over seven months for the operation despite finding a donor. Juravinski Hospital, where Hillier was to have the procedure, could only perform five transplants per month, and there were 30 people ahead of Hillier on the waiting list. She died while on the waiting list on Jan. 20, 2016.,” the Washington Examiner reported.
COVID-19 increased and deepened waits in the Canadian healthcare system, as hospitals and regions focus on fighting the pandemic and, unfortunately, end up sidelining other patients. In fact, “in the B.C. Interior Health Region, the number of patients who died after waiting beyond the government’s target period increased from 16% in 2018/19 to 43% last year,” Craig explained in his column.
Speaking to Washington Examiner, Craig said the main problem with the Canadian healthcare system is that it is “largely anchored in the 1970s” and “heavily controlled by the government, and as a result, patients are suffering.”
In the Canadian healthcare system, hospital facilities receive an annual “global budget” from the government to spend on healthcare. The problem is that the money is not enough, and so that the fund does not run out, “hospitals often limit the number of procedures they perform, resulting in patients ending up on waiting lists for treatment,” reads the Washington Examiner article.
Canadian healthcare, according to the SecondStreet.org report is deeply flawed in several respects, and has long had underlying problems that are not being solved by the authorities.
“One of the problems is that politicians are reluctant to talk about it. Why discuss structural reform that could help patients when it’s so much easier for politicians to do what they’ve done for decades: cross their fingers and throw more money at the problem?” wondered Craig, who hopes the study by the think tank he leads will help bring about reform or set up a major public debate about the shortcomings of Canada’s health care system.