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Report: Died on a waiting list

  • SecondStreet.org asked 50 hospitals and health regions across Canada – how many patients died while waiting for surgery in 2018-19? Their data showed 1,480 deaths

Public policy think tank SecondStreet.org released ground-breaking research today that shows there were 1,480 surgeries that were cancelled in 2018-19 as the patient had passed away. SecondStreet.org obtained the data by filed freedom of information requests with 50 large hospitals and health regions in Canada.

The health bodies that responded serve less than half of Canada’s population. If their results are extrapolated across the country, the total number of deaths would be approximately 3,841. Most health bodies indicated they don’t track data on patients who die while waiting for care.  

“Governments require businesses to report even minor workplace accidents, such as cases where an employee is bruised at work,” said SecondStreet.org President Colin Craig. “Yet, we found nearly 1,500 cases of patients dying while waiting for care and governments don’t even report the more egregious cases publicly.”

Highlights from the report include:

  • Evidence of 1,480 patients who died while waiting for surgery in Canada during 2018-19. This figure is incomplete as it is from health facilities which cover less than half the country.
  • Patient deaths occurred after waiting anywhere from less than a month to more than eight years for surgery.
  • Patients passed away while waiting for procedures which could be linked with their cause of death (eg. cardiac surgery), as well as procedures which could have increased their quality of life during their remaining years (eg. cataract surgery, knee surgery, etc.).

Public opinion shows Canadians overwhelmingly believe governments should disclose more details on patients dying while waiting for care. A March, 2020 Leger poll (commissioned by SecondStreet.org) found 81% of Canadians strongly or somewhat agree with “governments publicly disclosing each year the number of patients that die while on a waiting list.”

“One thing governments could start to do is release anonymous waiting list incident reports that summarize each time a patient suffers while on a government waiting list,” added Craig. “Such reports could help Canadians learn more about patient suffering in the health care system.”

Responses by hospital / health region

Province / health body

Number of patients who died on a waiting list

Data quality

BC – Fraser Health

277

FAIR

BC – Interior Health

175

FAIR

AB – Alberta Health

39

FAIR

SK – SK Ministry of Health

242

FAIR

MB – Interlake-Eastern

0

GOOD

MB – Prairie Mountain Health

27

POOR

ON – Guelph General Hospital

8

FAIR

ON – Hamilton Health Sciences

78

GOOD

ON – London Health Sciences

9

FAIR

ON – Mackenzie Health (Richmond Hill)

12

FAIR

ON – The Queensway Carleton (Ottawa)

6

POOR

ON – Scarborough Health

12

POOR

ON – SickKids

7

POOR

ON – Sinai Health

5

POOR

ON – Southlake Regional Health Centre

60

FAIR

ON – The Ottawa Hospital

26

POOR

ON – Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences

49

FAIR

ON – Trillium Health Partners

33

FAIR

QC – CISSS de Laval

1

GOOD

PEI – Health PEI

16

POOR

NS – Nova Scotia Health Authority

398

GOOD

TOTAL

1,480

 

To view the Died on a waiting list policy brief – click here

To view responses from individual health regions or hospitals, click on the health body’s name in the table above.

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