Dr. Brian Day @DrBrianDay Twitter

  • Past President Canadian Medical Association
  • Past President Arthroscopy Association of North America
  • Honourary Associate Professor University of British Columbia
  • 2014 Doctors of BC Don Rix Leadership Award

Keeping patients on wait lists cripples our health system

Apr 03, 2008

The Province

It seems inconceivable that, given the grave challenges facing Canada's public health system, we should be pouring billions of taxpayers' dollars down a great big hole.

And yet, if we are to take seriously the claims of the Canadian Medical Association, inefficiencies within the system are consuming vast amounts of cash that should be going to patient care.

According to CMA president Dr. Brian Day, Canadians are putting more money into health care than most other western democracies, but are getting less out.

The evidence is not hard to find.

On Monday this week, The Province reported the ordeal of 22-year-old Tasha Kleisinger, forced to spend 28 hours waiting for treatment at Surrey Memorial Hospital's emergency ward.

In a classic understatement, health ministry spokesman Michelle Stewart observed that "the time spent in the hospital was not ideal in this case."

It was nothing new. As Day told our newspaper's editorial board yesterday, cases of patients waiting in ER or for so-called elective surgery are far from uncommon.

In fact, costly delays for care endured by patients across the country are proving almost impossible to reduce under the present hospital funding system.

It's why the CMA is endorsing a different approach.

At present, hospitals are given a fixed budget to work with. When it's gone, it's gone.

But if instead of block funding, the government were to reimburse hospitals for each patient treated, wait lists could soon be a thing of the past.

Since the more people they treated, the more they would earn, hospitals would have an incentive to work at optimum efficiency.

"It wouldn't cost that much to get rid of wait lists in Canada," said Day, a Vancouver surgeon.

Could he be more specific?

Well, Day estimates it would amount to a one-time cost to taxpayers of around $7 to $10 billion -- which, given the overall size of Canada's ballooning health budget, is far from a huge amount.

The elimination of wait lists would free up a lot of cash now spent keeping patients waiting.

We might then be in a position to generate still more money, Day suggests, by opening our hospitals to non-residents.

Even with a funding shakeup, however, it is clear Canadians will have to make some tough choices about which services should be covered by public health insurance -- and which should not.

We must make these choices openly and honestly. The status quo is clearly not good enough.