Waitlist Deaths at Five-Year High

  • Over 17,000 patients died while waiting for surgery or diagnostic scans in 2022-23. Data shows a 64% increase in annual waitlist deaths since 2018. Since multiple health bodies provided incomplete data, the true total is closer to 31,397. 
  • Nearly 1,000 Ontarians have died waiting for heart surgery since 2013 

CALGARY, AB: The number of Canadians dying on health care waiting lists for surgery or diagnostic  scans is at a five-year high, according to new research released today by think tank SecondStreet.org. Government data shows at least 17,032 patients died on a wait list in 2022-23.  

The data consists of cases where patients died waiting for procedures that could have potentially saved  their lives (e.g. a heart operation) and procedures that could have improved their quality of life (e.g. hip  operation). Patients died after waiting anywhere from less than a week to nearly 11 years. 

“We’re seeing governments leave patients for dead. It’s deplorable,” said SecondStreet.org president  Colin Craig. “More money won’t solve the problem. Governments have tried that for 30 years. Only  meaningful health reform will reduce patient suffering.” 

Some highlights from the research include: 

  • 17,032 patients died while waiting for surgery or diagnostic scans in 2022-23 – patients died after waiting anywhere from less than a week to nearly 11 years.
  • Several provinces provided partial data. If we extrapolate from the data provided and apply it across health regions that did not provide data, an estimated 31,397 patients died last year.  
  • 101 patients died while waiting for heart surgery in Ontario. Of those, 36 died after waiting longer  than the maximum recommended wait time. Since 2013, there have been 931 cases where  Ontario patients died while waiting for heart surgery (26% waited longer than recommended). 
  • Data from health care bodies that provided figures for each of the past five years shows there has  been an increase in annual surgical waiting list deaths of 64%. Over the past year, surgical  waiting list deaths are up 30% from those same health bodies. 
  • More money won’t solve the problem. Per capita government spending on health care has  increased from $1,714 to $5,607 since 1992, nearly double the inflation rate.  

“Ontario, Alberta, and other provinces are hiring private clinics to help provide surgery to patients in the  public system. This is a good first step,” added Craig. “Sweden and other European countries have  shown this can help. However, more needs to be done. At the very least, governments need to do a  better job of tracking this problem and assessing just how many patients died because they had to wait  too long for surgery.” 

To read Policy Brief: Died on a Waiting List 2023 – click here. 

See each province or health body’s Freedom of Information response below:

BC – Northern Health – Surgery, Diagnostic
BC – Interior Health – Surgery, Diagnostic
BC – Vancouver Coastal Health – Surgery, Diagnostic
BC – Fraser Health – Surgery, Diagnostic
AB – Alberta Health – Surgery and Diagnostic
SK – Ministry of Health – Surgery, Diagnostic
MB – Prairie Mountain Health – Surgery
ON – Ontario Health – Surgery and Diagnostic, Cardiac Surgery
ON – Hospital for Sick Children – Surgery, Diagnostic
ON – Guelph General Hospital – Surgery and Diagnostic
ON – Halton Health Care – Surgery and Diagnostic
ON – Hamilton Health Sciences Corporation – Surgery, Diagnostic
ON – Lakeridge Health (Oshawa) – Surgery, Diagnostic
ON – London Health Sciences Centre – Surgery, Diagnostic
ON – Mackenzie Health – Surgery and Diagnostic
ON – Hopital Montfort – Surgery and Diagnostic
ON – Niagara Health Systems – Surgery, Diagnostic
ON – Scarborough Health Network – Surgery, Diagnostic
ON – Sinai Health System – Surgery and Diagnostic
ON – The Ottawa Hospital – Surgery and Diagnostic
ON – Thunder Bay Regional Health Services Centre – Surgery and Diagnostic
QC – Health and Social Services – Surgery and Diagnostic 
QC – Capital Nationale – Surgery and Diagnostic
NS – Nova Scotia Health Authority – Surgery, Diagnostic
NB – New Brunswick Department of Health – Surgery
PE – Health PEI – Surgery, Diagnostic



Following the release of this report, SecondStreet.org received new Freedom of Information responses from B.C. and Saskatchewan. This new data bumped the total confirmed number of waitlist deaths in 2022-23 to 17,296. To learn more – click here.

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