What Do I Need to Know About Wait Times in Canada?

When it comes to health care services and products, Canadians wait far too long.

We wait in emergency rooms, for hospital beds, family doctors, diagnostic procedures, appointments with specialists, and the approval of critical new medicines.

While a healthcare crisis is sure to present challenges, the truth is that COVID did not create the cracks in the Canadian system so much as reveal, and in many cases, exacerbate them.

This is clear when you compare aspects of Canada’s health care performance with other comparable countries, such as member countries in the Organization for Economic Development (OECD).  These countries are generally very high on the United Nation’s Human Development Index (HDI), have a high-income economy and are considered developed.

  • NEW MEDICINES: Canada ranks 18th out of 20 comparable countries for the time it takes to get new medicines approved and available. In Canada, we wait an average of three and a half years from the first global launch before new medicines are approved for public funding. Compare that to about 1 year in Germany, or less than 6 months in the USA.
  • FAMILY DOCTORS: More than 4.6 million Canadians don’t even have access to a regular family doctor,[2] a recipe for a lack of prevention and care for problems when they could be most simply dealt with at the least cost. Canada ranks 28th out of 30 comparable countries. We need more physicians in this country in all regions – rural and remote.  
  • EMERGENCY ROOM WAITS: Before COVID-19, most Canadians waited up to 3.9 hours in emergency to see a doctor for an initial assessment, according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information. By comparison, the estimated wait time to see an emergency physician was close to six hours at Calgary’s Foothills Medical Centre and 11 hours at B.C. Children’s Hospital in July 2022.
  • HOSPITAL BEDS PER CAPITA: Canada is also severely lagging in hospital beds per capita, as the pandemic made very clear.  Canada ranks 23rd out of 28 comparable countries.
  • DIAGNOSTIC PROCEDURES: The Fraser Institute notes that Patients also experience significant waiting times for various diagnostic technologies across the provinces. In 2021, Canadians could expect to wait 5.2 weeks for a computed tomography (CT) scan, 10.2 weeks for a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, and 3.6 weeks for an ultrasound.
  • TECHNOLOGY PER CAPITA: When it comes to technology and comparable countries, Canada is near the very bottom in terms of MRI scanners, CT scanners and radiotherapy equipment per capita.
  • SPECIALISTS: In 2021, Specialist physicians surveyed report a median waiting time of 25.6 weeks between referral from a general practitioner and receipt of treatment. The 2021 wait time is the longest wait time recorded in this survey’s history and is 175% longer than in 1993, when it was just 9.3 weeks.

History demonstrates that major disasters can help inspire and drive change. During the pandemic we learned it doesn’t have to be like this, with Canada speeding up its processes for COVID vaccines and treatments and being a world leader in approving them and in getting them to Canadians in record time while using innovative ways to do so. We also saw how quickly doctors adapted to providing virtual care and even hospitals began caring for some of their patients while they remained at home.

We need to build on the momentum of collaboration and change that we’ve seen during the pandemic to examine how we can improve Canadians’ access to medical innovation, while addressing barriers to access, including cumbersome regulations, inefficient delivery, and other roadblocks to public funding.

How is CARP Advocating?

CARP demands specific commitments to:

  •  improving the performance numbers, with particular attention to increasing the capacity for diagnostic testing. We want dates and measurable goals to be achieved — details, not vague promises.
  • increased investment to address the backlog of care lost to patients during the pandemic.
  • increase the investment on recruitment and training of more doctors and nurses, with particular focus on specialists needed by our older population. (In Ontario, for instance, there are only 313 geriatric specialists in the entire province, compared to
  • 1,018 pediatricians).
  • Avoid putting complex regulations in place that create price uncertainty and discourage innovative medicines and vaccines from coming to Canada.
  • changes to the Patented Medicine Prices Review Board (PMPRB) policies that reduced access to life-changing medicines, diminished access to clinical trials and fewer life sciences jobs across the country. This will improve access to the best available health innovations with a balanced approach to competitive pricing.

How Can I Get Involved?

There are many ways to get involved.  Find out more.