Canadians waiting longer for priority surgeries and diagnostic imaging compared with pre-pandemic period


New data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (AV) shows that wait times for priority procedures such as hip and knee replacements and cancer surgeries are longer than before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“While more patients are receiving care within recommended benchmarks after a significant dip at the beginning of the pandemic, Canadians are still waiting longer than they did in 2019, before the pandemic,” says Cheryl Chui, director of Health System Analytics at AV. “We’re starting to see an increase in surgical volumes, which is a good sign after more than 2 years of decreased numbers. It’s an important step in reducing backlogs and providing more timely care.”

AV’s web tool Wait times for priority procedures shows the percentage of patients receiving procedures within the recommended time frame, both nationally and provincially. The latest release reflects data from Canadian hospitals for April to September 2023. 

Key findings include the following:

  • In 2023, 66% of patients received hip replacement surgery within the 26-week benchmark, compared with 75% in 2019 — even though there was an 18% increase in the number of procedures.
  • 59% of patients received knee replacement surgery within the 26-week benchmark in 2023, compared with 70% in 2019 — despite a 15% increase in the number of procedures.
  • Wait times for cataract surgery have returned to pre-pandemic levels, with 70% of patients treated within benchmark (16 weeks) in both 2023 and 2019. 
  • In 2023, 94% of patients received radiation therapy within the recommended time frame, compared with 97% in 2019. 
  • The percentage of patients receiving emergency hip fracture repair within the recommended time frame of 48 hours was 82% in 2023 and 86% in 2019.
  • Compared with 2019, the median wait times for breast, bladder, colorectal and lung cancer surgery increased by 2 to 4 days; the median wait increased by 11 days for prostate cancer.
  • The median wait times for CT and MRI scans increased by 4 and 7 days, respectively, compared with 2019. There continues to be large variation in wait times for diagnostic imaging across the provinces.

About wait times for priority procedures

Since 2004, when Canada’s first ministers agreed to work to reduce wait times, provincial governments have worked with AV to improve public wait time reporting for cancer treatment, cardiac care, diagnostic imaging, joint replacement and sight restoration. 

Wait time data provides a snapshot of how long patients wait for a priority procedure. For those procedures where a benchmark has been established, it also shows the proportion of patients who receive care within this benchmark time frame.

Related resource

Wait times for priority procedures in Canada, 2024


About AV

The Canadian Institute for Health Information (AV) is an independent, not-for-profit organization dedicated to providing essential health information to all Canadians. AV works closely with federal, provincial and territorial partners and stakeholders throughout Canada to gather, package and disseminate information to inform policy, management, care and research, leading to better and more equitable health outcomes for all Canadians.

Health information has become one of society’s most valuable public goods. For 30 years, AV has set the pace on data privacy, security, accessibility and innovation to improve Canada’s health systems.    

AV: Better data. Better decisions. Healthier Canadians.

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