Photo credit: Nanomed Dreams/Wikimedia Commons

Photo credit: Nanomed Dreams/Wikimedia Commons

The 2016 United States presidential election is being followed keenly by news outlets around the world. For Canadians, that means an unusual exposure to the political philosophies dividing America’s citizens along party lines. A particularly divisive subject in this – and, to a certain extent, every – election cycle is healthcare. The Democratic candidates wish to expand President Obama’s signature Affordable Care Act en route to universal coverage, while Republican candidates vow to repeal it. Universal coverage, the Republicans say, is not just un-American but fundamentally flawed – and they point to Canada as an example.

While Canadians tend to roll their eyes and scoff at Americans’ fear of “Canadian-style” socialized healthcare, one common Republican talking point is more valid than we may feel comfortable admitting: wait times.

According to the Wait Time Alliance’s 2014 Report Card on Wait Times in Canada, while “some provinces [including Ontario] have or are beginning to make substantive and sustained progress to reduce wait times,” Canadians must still wait “two or three times longer for necessary medical care than citizens of other countries that also have universal publicly funded health systems.”

A more recent report, “Wait Times for Priority Procedures in Canada 2016,” released this March, states that around 80 per cent of Canadians have necessary surgery within the wait-time benchmarks set out by the provinces 10 years ago. However, the Montreal Gazette noted on March 31 that the report’s numbers do not take into consideration the “weeks and months it can take for patients to get on a waiting list.”

In January 2016, the Toronto Star published an article examining wait times in the city’s emergency rooms. “Only about 10 per cent of emergency room patients in the Toronto-area health networks deemed to be at the second-highest priority level – conditions such as severe asthma attack or drug overdose – were seen by a doctor within the recommended time frame of 15 minutes,” the article reads.

Can extended wait times lead to medical malpractice suits?

The Star article looked at the case of a Lorena Reinoso, a Toronto woman who lost parts of her fingers and toes after an extended stay in the emergency room at Mississauga’s Credit Valley Hospital. She is suing the hospital for negligence.

“If you’ve got an illness that needs treatment in 15 minutes, and you don’t see a doctor for hours and hours, you’re obviously at a very high risk of having your condition worsen, with terrible consequences, including death,” said Reinoso’s lawyer, Amani Oakley.

According to the Star, Reinoso waited four and a half hours to be seen by a doctor after a triage nurse assessed her as a level 2 patient under guidelines set out by the Canadian Triage and Acuity Scale (CTAS).

The Canadian Medical Protective Association (CMPA), which is charged with defending Canada’s doctors against medical malpractice lawsuits, addressed hospital wait times in a 2007 report titled “Wait Times – a medical liability perspective.” The report calls attention to physicians’ “duty of care to their patients” and the fact they “may be held accountable and liable for damages suffered by their patients as a result of a failure to fulfill their duty of care.”

Addressing wait times in particular, the report notes that “regardless of the length of the queue, physicians remain responsible to place patients in the queue and to adjust positioning based on changing clinical priorities.”

As such, a patient who is in obvious need of immediate care has a right to that care, and a physician, nurse, or hospital which does not provide it may be liable for injuries sustained by that patient.

If you or a member of your family has suffered an injury as a result of prolonged hospital wait times, you should immediately contact Neinstein Personal Injury Lawyers’ Medical Malpractice Group. They can help you understand the validity of your medical malpractice claim, and connect you with the resources necessary for your recovery.


Greg Neinstein