One of Canada’s best qualities is its accessible health care system. So many services are free, or at least readily-available to Canadian citizens in need of a check-up, prescription medicine, and surgery. Despite these advantages that we have, however, we still suffer when it comes to scheduling those important appointments.
The (sadly now-disbanded) Wait Time Alliance’s 2014 Report Card on Canada’s long wait times listed contributing factors such as inadequate or minimal resources and staff, and a lack of system coordination. Further illustrating the disconcerting trend of long wait times was a 2016 report by the Canadian Institute for Health Information. In it, the CIHI determined that only 59% of Canadians heard back from their doctor on the same day they phoned for an appointment, and that 43% saw their doctor either on that same day or the very next day.
The wait times to see a specialist of any kind were even longer. In fact, 56% of Canadians reported waiting four weeks or longer before they were seen by a specialist. With regards to seeking mental health care, this is equally as dire – sometimes, more so. Some young people waited up to a year or longer for any kind of mental health treatment; one-third of those same Canadians did not receive adequate assistance, if they received any at all. What’s more, it was reported that fifty-five percent of family doctors ranked access to psychiatrists from fair to poor.
For someone struggling with a mental health problem, the inner battle that transpires during that waiting period can be overwhelming. Consider the case of Matthew Leaton, a Brampton, Ontario youth grappling with suicidal depression who was hospitalized fifteen times in almost two years. In that case, the wait time for his depression treatment was nine months. Any day during that nine month period could have been his last.
Back in 2008, the Centre for Spatial Economics presented a report to the Canadian Medical Association outlining how long wait times actually had a negative impact on Canada’s economy. Further progress can be made if enough organizations report on the causes of long wait times per province and identify what resources those regions need. It’s disheartening to know that nearly nine years have passed since the CSE’s report and that little to no progress was made during that period.
Although there is much work to be done, but the groundwork has been laid. This year, the Canadian government promised a total of $5 billion in funding for mental health initiatives, a plan that will take 11 years to implement fully. Acknowledgement of a problem is the first step to solving it. We’ve long acknowledged that there is a problem. Now it’s time to act.