(THE NEWS/files) Ridge Meadows Hospital.

Letter: ‘Wait times solution not what you think’

Canada’s health care policies haven’t changed since 1984.

Editor, The News:

It has become standard practice to wait for treatment in Canada. Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows are no exception.

The Fraser Institute found the average wait times between a referral from a general practitioner to receiving treatment in Canada are the highest compared to the world’s most developed nations.

In 2016, Canada recorded the national average wait time for treatment by a specialist at 20 weeks. Provinces, like British Columbia and Alberta, wait on average 26 weeks, or six months, to receive treatment.

Even our neighbours to the south, the United States of America, are slightly ahead, with respect to health care wait times. Despite their lack of accessible care and increasing disparities in health inequality, the United States prevails.

How can this be?

It’s simple: Canada’s health care policies haven’t changed since 1984. For those who don’t know, that was the year the Canada Health Act was introduced.

Dr. Steve Morgan, associate professor at UBC’s School of Population and Public Health, described the Canada Health Act as a piece of federal legislation that establishes the terms and conditions provincial governments must fulfill to receive their federal cash contribution, as set by the Canada Health Transfer.

The Canada Health Transfer, in simple terms, is the money the federal government sends to the province to help pay for health care.

Essentially, this means the Canada Health Act sets the guidelines for provinces to provide all eligible residents access to reasonable health services, without requiring those residents to directly pay out of pocket for the services rendered.

It should be noted that Canada has had seven different prime ministers, representative of three different political parties (Liberal, Conservative, and Progressive Conservative) over the 36-year period since health care policies were last reformed.

That’s 36 years the federal government has had the opportunity to initiate change in our health care system, and yet our health care wait times continue to rise.

I took to Facebook to ask locals how long they had to wait between referrals from a general practitioner to receiving treatment by a specialist.

On the Albion Neighbours Public Group alone, I received over 135 stories describing the struggles of referral wait times.

One local explained their painstaking five-month wait for a specialist to diagnose and treat their immobilizing sinus pains.

Another shared their 20-month wait just to see a neurologist – that’s over a year just for a consult.

If you live in Maple Ridge or Pitt Meadows, you may have heard of the shortage of family doctors needed to meet the demand of the growing population.

Some locals shared their experiences about wait times to get in to see a primary care physician, such as a family doctor or pediatrician. They found it took anywhere from several months to a year, with the most difficult wait time story coming from a family who has been waiting 16 months to see a pediatric specialist for an autism assessment.

What can we do to change our current health care wait times?

First, be informed about the stance on health care policy political parties uphold.

Then, use this knowledge to exercise your right to vote.

Lastly, some tips to navigate through the long wait times:

• advocate for yourself – let your general practitioner know that you are flexible and willing to travel the distance for a specialist appointment;

• if you haven’t heard from a specialist with regards to your appointment, do not hesitate to follow up, and keep following up;

• finally, ask to be put on a cancellation list – more often than not, it’ll help get you in the door sooner than expected.

Good luck, everyone.

Soraya Bellou

Maple Ridge

Editor’s note: Soraya Bellou is a fifth-year bachelor of science student at UBC, studying biology, health and society, who lives in Maple Ridge. She is in a health policy class with Dr. Steve Morgan, a Canadian health economist whose work promotes universal access to pharmaceuticals. This opinion piece was an assignment for Dr. Morgan’s class.

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