Waiting for medical treatments cost Canadians $3.5 billion in lost wages

Lost wages and productivity revealed as costly outcomes of delayed treatment

Waiting for medical treatments cost Canadians $3.5 billion in lost wages
Steve Randall

Waiting for medical appointments is not only frustrating, it’s costly for individuals and businesses according to a new report.

The Fraser Institute says that an estimated 1.2 million Canadians waiting for surgery or treatments in 2023 led to $3.5 billion in lost wages and productivity, with the actual cost potentially coming in a lot higher.

The non-partisan think-tank’s Nadeem Esmail, a senior fellow, calculated that the average cost to each person on a wait list was $2,871 but this varies widely by location. For example, an individual in Ontario would suffer a $1,660 loss but for someone in Prince Edward Island this rises to $4,805.

“Waiting for medically necessary treatment remains a hallmark of the Canadian health-care system, and in addition to increased pain and suffering—and potentially worse medical outcomes—these long waits also cost Canadians time at work and with family and friends,” said Esmail.

The institute’s annual survey of physicians revealed that the average waiting time from specialist appointment to treatment was 13.1 weeks. However, when the average time from seeing a general practitioner to the specialist appointment was 14.6 weeks, more than doubling the total wait and increasing the overall financial cost.

“As long as lengthy wait times define Canada’s health-care system, patients will continue to pay a price in lost wages and reduced quality of life,” said Mackenzie Moir, a senior policy analyst at the Fraser Institute and co-author of the study The Private Cost of Public Queues for Medically Necessary Care, 2024.

What’s the cost where you are?

Average value of time lost during the work week in 2023 for patients waiting for medically necessary treatment (by province):

  • British Columbia $2,963
  • Alberta $3,470
  • Saskatchewan $4,033
  • Manitoba $2,277
  • Ontario $1,660
  • Quebec $2,828
  • New Brunswick $4,800
  • Nova Scotia $4,683
  • Prince Edward Island $4,805
  • Newfoundland and Labrador $1,915

Last year, the institute calculated how much Canadians pay for health care.