How can Canada reduce surgical backlogs without expanding privatization?

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Author: Diana Duong
Date: Nov. 15, 2022
From: CMAJ: Canadian Medical Association Journal(Vol. 194, Issue 44)
Publisher: CMA Impact Inc.
Document Type: Article
Length: 1,146 words
Lexile Measure: 1550L

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Growing surgical backlogs during the COVID-19 pandemic have revived debate in Canada about the merits of allowing patients to pay privately for faster access to care.

However, speakers at the first Canadian Doctors for Medicare policy summit argued it's a myth that a parallel private system would ease pressure on public health care.

Investments in the public system, including in team-based care, centralized wait lists, and better compensation for nurses, would deliver more "bang for our buck" says Jasmine Gite, a Hamilton-based family medicine resident and board member of Canadian Doctors for Medicare.

Hospitals across Canada performed 600 000 fewer surgeries during the first 18 months of the pandemic, according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information.

Surgical volumes have since rebounded, but wait times have increased for some elective surgeries, such as joint replacements and cataract surgeries, as health systems have prioritized procedures deemed more urgent, including cancer surgeries and radiation therapy.

At the latest count last year, just 62% of hip and knee replacements and 66% of cataract surgeries occurred within recommended wait times, down from 71% and 70%, respectively, before the pandemic.

Proponents of privatization have long argued that patients should have the option to pay privately for faster access when the public system is unable to deliver care within benchmarks.

In one recent case, a teenager in British Columbia waited nearly two years for scoliosis surgery while his condition deteriorated.

"When you have a deformity like this that's progressive, it's just unacceptable," said Brian Day, an orthopedic surgeon who, earlier this year, lost an appeal against a lower court ruling on his case for giving people the right to pay for private health care in B.C., in a CBC News report.


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