Waiting for treatment has become a defining characteristic of Canadian health care, according to a leading Canadian think tank.The Fraser Institute’s annual Waiting Your Turn report indicates that, overall, waiting times for medically necessary treatment went up in 2023. Specialist physicians surveyed report a median waiting time of 27.7 weeks between referral from a general practitioner and receipt of treatment — longer than the wait of 27.4 weeks reported in 2022. This year’s wait time is the longest wait time recorded in this survey’s history and is 198% longer than in 1993, when it was just 9.3 weeks.Total waiting times vary widely across the provinces. Ontario reports the shortest total wait at 21.6 weeks, while Nova Scotia reports the longest at 56.7 weeks. There is also a great deal of variation among specialties. Patients wait longest between a GP referral and plastic surgery (52.4 weeks), while those waiting for radiation treatments begin treatment in 4.4 weeks. From referral by a general practitioner to consultation with a specialist, the waiting time increased from 12.6 weeks in 2022 to 14.6 weeks in 2023. This wait time is 296% longer than in 1993, when it was 3.7 weeks. The shortest waits for specialist consultations are in Quebec (12.3 weeks) while the longest occur in Nova Scotia (28.3 weeks).In brighter news, the wait time from consultation with a specialist to receiving treatment decreased from 14.8 weeks in 2022 to 13.1 weeks this year. This wait time is still 133% longer than in 1993 when it was 5.6 weeks, and 4.6 weeks longer than what physicians consider to be clinically “reasonable” (8.5 weeks). The shortest specialist-to-treatment waits are found in Newfoundland & Labrador (8 weeks) and the longest are in Nova Scotia (28.4 weeks).Nationwide, the total number of procedures for which people are waiting in 2023 is 1,209,194, or 3% of the population. Among provinces, this percentage ranges from 2.14% in Ontario to 8.39% in Nova Scotia. Physicians report only about 13.7% of their patients are on a waiting list because they requested a delay or postponement, leaving 86.3% with a completely unwanted delay.Diagnostic procedures also have a wait list. This averages 6.6 weeks for a computed tomography (CT) scan, 12.9 weeks for a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan and 5.3 weeks for an ultrasound.Report authors Mackenzie Moir and Bacchus Barua say a wide body of research has repeatedly indicated wait times for medically necessary treatment are not benign inconveniences.“Wait times can, and do, have serious consequences such as increased pain, suffering and mental anguish,” the pair wrote in a press release.“In certain instances, they can also result in poorer medical outcomes — transforming potentially reversible illnesses or injuries into chronic, irreversible conditions or even permanent disabilities. In many instances, patients may also have to forgo their wages while they wait for treatment, resulting in an economic cost to the individuals themselves and the economy in general.”The authors lament provinces are still losing ground.“The results of this year’s survey indicate that despite provincial strategies to reduce wait times and high levels of health expenditure, it is clear patients in Canada continue to wait too long to receive medically necessary treatment.”A Fraser Institute report by the same authors released in November found Canada lagged behind other nations with universal health care coverage. Canada was highest in health care spending as a share of the economy, but was 28th in doctors per capita, 23rd in care beds per capita, 25th in MRI units per capita, 26th in CT scanners per capita and had the longest surgical wait times.