TORONTO SUN COLUMN – Health care reform can shorten waiting lists and prevent deaths

The number of patients who died last year while waiting for surgery and diagnostic scans in Ontario was up significantly compared to past years, according to new data obtained exclusively by While the numbers are specific to Ontario, it’s another example of why Canada needs health reform. 

Most readers will know that long health-care waiting lists can affect a patient’s quality of life; many live with chronic painsevere anxiety and lose income while they are unable to work. 

Even worse, long waiting periods can cost patients their lives. 

Judy Anderson, a retired nurse from Port Perry, Ont., described to how her daughter Shannon experienced heart trouble in late 2020. Despite having a treatable conditionShannon was left to languish on a waiting list. Eventually, her condition worsened, she said her goodbyes to loved ones and checked herself into a hospital. A few days later, she died, leaving behind four children. 

New data obtained by shows there were 2,096 patients who died while waiting for surgery in 2022-23. This is a 49% increase from the year before. To be clearthese patients were waiting for a wide array of surgeries — everything from cataract surgery to cardiac cases. It’s unlikely someone would die because they didn’t receive cataract surgery in time, but one shouldn’t dismiss such cases. Would you want to spend your final year or two with cloudy vision? 

Ontario health data also shows the number of patients who died while waiting for diagnostic scans has increased steadily from 1,341 in 2015-16 to 9,404 last year. 

Some politicians will throw these figures around and play the blame game, but readers should note that waiting-list deaths occur regularly across the country, regardless of the party in power. has tallied more than 50,000 waiting lists in Canada over the last five years. 

It’s difficult to pinpoint where in Canada the wait list suffering is the worst, but it would be helpful if every province recorded and disclosed data like Nova Scotia. Last year, the Atlantic province clearly noted that 28 patients died while waiting for procedures that could potentially have saved their lives. Of those, over “60%” had waited longer than the recommended wait time. 

In Ontario, Alberta and other parts of Canada, governments are partnering more and more with private clinics to provide services to patients. Just like visiting your family doctor’s office (which is also a private business), patients aren’t charged for surgery at these facilities — it’s paid for by governments using tax dollarsPartnering with private clinics is positive step that has been proven to help reduce wait times everywhere from Saskatchewan to Sweden. 

Another change that could help would be to let those who are willing and able to pay for services at local private clinics. As some patients choose this option, they’ll free up space on public waiting lists. Right now, except in Quebec, patients aren’t allowed to pay for surgery locally. This is why, for example, Vancouver patients travel to Calgary for private knee surgery and vice versa. It makes no sense. 

More and more patients are dying without receiving the care they need. Some provinces are making steps in the right direction, but more needs to be done.  

Colin Craig is the president of, a Canadian think tank 

This column was published in the Toronto Sun on August 17, 2023.

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