Health care needs resuscitation

Long wait times for non-urgent treatments indicate need for reform

Alex Schwenger, ArtSci ’10
Alex Schwenger, ArtSci ’10

According to Statistics Canada, 80 per cent of Canadians are satisfied with the Canadian health-care system. However is it satisfaction or acceptance they’re feeling?

Unlike most people my age I have had extensive experience with the Ontario health-care system, and what strikes me the most is the apathy that exists within the system. I’m a 19-year-old who has essentially been disabled with a serious but reversible back injury for the past year. I have, according to one doctor, “the mobility of an 86 year-old woman” but I have lost count of the number of doctors who have told me that there is nothing they can do for me.

The average wait time for an MRI is six to eight weeks if your condition is urgent, and much longer if it’s not. Wait times to see a specialist such as a neurosurgeon, however, are usually around a year; that statistic is completely unacceptable, since referrals are only given out as a last resort.

In fact, despite a 2005 Supreme Court ruling that declared, “access to a waiting list is not access to health care,” this is commonly the case. In my opinion, the health-care system believes in throwing pills at people and leaving them to suffer, not only physically but also mentally and emotionally.

While antibiotics may cure ear infections and bronchitis, when it comes to more complex conditions, addressing the situation with drugs is like putting a Band-Aid on a flesh wound. What many doctors forget is that more serious injuries and illnesses affect you mentally and emotionally as well. They impact every action you take, even down to basic interactions with friends and family. Although I won’t go into how my injury has affected my life, I will tell you with certainty that coping with the pain on a daily basis is an extremely difficult thing to do. I feel not only an incredible amount of anger towards the health-care system but also a deep sense of disillusionment.

I have nothing against doctors personally, because I understand how overworked they all are and that they are doing the best they can in a flawed system. Still, having doctors tell me flat-out that there’s nothing they can do for me has only decreased my faith in their abilities to heal. I and the thousands of other Canadians waiting for treatment have been abandoned by the Canadian medical system.

... despite a 2005 Supreme Court ruling which declared that, “access to a waiting list is not access to health care,” this is commonly the case.

When I say waiting for treatment, however, I don’t just mean the senior citizens who are waiting a year for hip replacements; I also mean those with life threatening illnesses such as cancer. According to the Globe and Mail, despite the Canadian government’s National Wait Times Strategy, which created maximum wait times for treatments such as radiation, most hospitals aren’t able to meet this standard and even fewer can meet the two-week benchmark oncologists recommend. In fact, the only group this plan has benefited is those who are dying, as 94 per cent of surveyed hospitals met the two-week standard for palliative patients in a 2006 Globe and Mail survey. If cancer patients are being denied treatment, where’s the hope for the rest of us?

The answer to this question isn’t an easy one. It’s most definitely not privatization, or even more money, although that would help. In my opinion, we need to revamp the system. Our current system focuses on reaction versus proaction and supply versus demand. Promoting healthy lifestyles could save the government billions of dollars on treating potentially preventable diseases related to factors like obesity or smoking, such as heart disease or lung cancer. Advance screening for hereditary diseases or conditions could essentially nip them in the bud, reducing the need for cancer treatments. Integrated health-care clinics, like those in the U.K, which give greater responsibility to nurses and allow them to see patients regarding common aliments, would help to reduce the doctor shortage. So would offering assistance to help foreign-trained doctors become qualified to practice in Canada. Little steps such as these are not revolutionary, but they would help.

We can’t afford to wait any longer for change in the system. Action must be taken now, because it’s something that will benefit us all, especially with our rapidly aging population. No one is exempt from the certainties of old age and sickness, so it’s important you speak out now before the system fails you, too.

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