Apparently, Canadians have a limit to the amount of unnecessary discomfort and ineffectual leadership they will suffer through. Polls, demonstrations, and now a convoy of truckers blocking streets in downtown Ottawa show that Canadians are fed up.
Canadians want their society to go back to the pre-COVID norms. But while that may be true of most things, it cannot – and should not – be true for health care. There has never been a better time to demand changes to our archaic Canadian health care system.
The pandemic has revealed just how inadequate the system really is.
Staff shortages, limited access to doctors, and overburdened acute care units have been reported across the country. Wait lists have become much longer, leading to thousands of delayed surgeries and diagnostic procedures.
Canadians could conclude that it was the COVID pandemic that decimated our health care system. But the sad truth is that none of this is new. It is just worse than it was. Problems with the health care system existed long before the pandemic.
For example, a recent report commissioned by the Canadian Medical Association found that delayed and never received health care may have contributed to more than 4,000 additional deaths (not related to COVID) of Canadians between August and December 2020.
Other research shows that perhaps as many as 11,581 Canadians died in 2020-21 while waiting for surgeries, diagnostic scans, and appointments with specialists. The statistics are horrifying, yet numbers fail to convey the devastating impact waiting for medical care has on individuals and families.
Consider the case of a 74-year-old musician/cab driver, Edward, from Newfoundland. In 2019, he spent weeks in a hospital room waiting for triple bypass surgery to treat clogged arteries. He wanted to go home rather than wait in the hospital but was informed that he would go to the bottom of the wait list if he left the hospital.
Just two weeks later, he died of complications from heart surgery. If he had had surgery earlier, he may still be alive today.
Julie of Nanaimo, B.C., has been left to ponder the same question. Several years ago, her husband became ill, and his doctor ordered a diagnostic test that was scheduled almost five months later.
He never made it to the test. He was admitted to the emergency department, and two days later he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. He died shortly after receiving his first radiation and chemotherapy treatments.
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Greg’s family has also been left to wonder ‘what if?’ He was a 31-year-old Albertan who had what was likely a very treatable case of testicular cancer. He was referred to a urologist and waited months only to discover the doctor was no longer practicing. He got a second referral to another urologist, only to be informed that the doctor was away for an extended period. His appointment was set for months later before Greg could undergo surgery.
Two days later, Greg developed complications but was unable to contact his urologist. He went to the emergency department but was sent home and told that the cancer clinic would follow up. He died the next day.
Reading about the failures of the health care system experienced by some Canadians may motivate us to finally realize the system needs serious work so that patients’ needs are met without the delays experienced now.
Susan Martinuk is a Research Fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy. She is the author of a just-published book, Patients at Risk: Exposing Canada’s Health-care Crisis.
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