Perhaps because I work in social services with seniors, I am drawn to any information that focuses on Canadian healthcare. The most recent article I read focuses on the cost of waitlists.
Imagine you have a ‘non-urgent’ health condition, would you want to wait months to see a specialist? If you are in constant back pain, unable to work because of the pain, would you want to be placed on a wait list for months to see a specialist?
The article’s author describes a story of a family member diagnosed with a spinal ailment that has worsened to the point where mobility is severely impaired and the afflicted individual is in constant pain. Continued employment as an agriculture laborer has become impossible. The general physician suspects a spinal fusion is needed and makes a referral to a specialist. Nine months later the patient sees the specialist who confirms the need for surgery and is placed on a wait list which could take 12+ months to occur! This back pain is considered ‘non-urgent’ here in Canada. From the initial appointment with the general physician to surgery-2 years in total.
In February of 2013, the Organization for Economic Development and Co-operation released a report entitled Waiting Time Policies in the Health Sector. The 13-country survey found that Canada has the longest elective surgery waiting times (an average of all elective surgeries), with 25 per cent of patients waiting more than four months compared with 8 per cent in New Zealand; 7 per cent in France, Switzerland, and the United States; and 5 per cent in the Netherlands and Germany.
Imagine being in constant, chronic pain waiting for ‘elective’ surgery, unable to do anything about it. The government rationalizes that the person will most likely not die waiting for this orthopedic surgery, so it is not deemed necessary, but the individual cannot function as they once did-a significant deterioration in quality of life, as well as a deterioration in the health condition itself occurs costing money to the health and social services system.
Canada is the only country with laws that take away a patient’s right to pay privately for health-care services. The result is the same as it would be for any service for which competition is forbidden: a sclerotic, inflexible system that stifles innovation, takes away freedom of choice, and costs taxpayers and employers dearly.
Is a two-tier system the way to go? Those with the financial means can privately pay for surgery and those who cannot will suffer. It is a tough question to answer, but I can share that there is no justice or equality in a two-tier system. I do believe solutions exist and everyone involved in healthcare or social services should share solutions, but we need a government that is willing to listen and really address this issue or change will not occur.
Victoria Brewster, MSW
*First published at: http://www.socialjusticesolutions.org/2013/03/15/waitlists-in-canadian-healthcare/