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Comparing Canadian Wait Times in Health Care – Before and After the Pandemic 

By: Benefits by Design | Tuesday February 28, 2023

Updated : Thursday February 29, 2024

Free Download: 2022 Health Care Wait Times in Canada Infographic

Canadian wait times to see a specialist for treatment have become atrocious. The Canadian health care system was once inspirational. When speaking of social programs, the health care system was touted as one of the best things about being a Canadian. Now, it is viewed in an very different light. And health care wait times are all part of a system that is in dire need of some rejuvenation and innovation. 

How Long is Too Long? Canadian Healthcare Wait Times

The Rise of Canadian Wait Times 

Public health care has always faced the risk that some inequality will exist since patients with money could afford to go elsewhere and pay for quicker, possibly better treatment. This divide is now a much bigger problem, since the public system is so backlogged that those who have no choice are waiting for diagnostic scans, specialist consultations and ultimately treatment for much longer than in the past. And only those who can afford to are able to bypass the public system and receive quicker care. 

So, what’s causing this increase? While it’s easy to say COVID-19 is the sole culprit, the reality is that Canadian wait times have been increasing steadily over time. 

According to the Fraser Institute study Waiting Your Turn: Wait Times for Health Care in Canada, 2022 Report, the average wait time from Physician referral to treatment has risen dramatically over the last 30 years. 

In 1993, the average Canadian wait time was 9.3 weeks (about 2 months). In 2019, that rose to 20.9 weeks (about 5 months), and last year it increased to 27.4 weeks (about 6 and a half months). The pandemic certainly exacerbated an already overburdened system, and the rate of increase was higher than before the pandemic.  

Worsening Conditions

Unfortunately, as the health care system continues to fall behind, patients’ conditions progress further, which only puts more pressure on the public system. In fact, “55% of insurers report an increase in later-stage diagnosis of illness due to deferred care.”  Plus, some Canadians may wind up with a secondary diagnosis as a result, further adding to the wait times.  

How Increasing Healthcare Wait Times in Canada Impact Health Outcomes

Comparing Canadian Wait Times 

The Fraser Institute study also looked at median wait times by specialty, by diagnostic test and by province. We compiled information from our two previous wait times infographics (2019 and 2021) to compare how the pandemic affected Canadian wait times. (See below infographic for visual graphs) 

Wait Times by Specialty 

The specialty with the longest wait time is consistently orthopaedic surgery. In 2019, patients waited 39.1 weeks (about 9 months) from doctor referral to treatment, and by 2022 they were waiting for 48.4 weeks (about 11 months).  

Luckily, Cardiology (non-urgent) has the shortest wait time. In 2022, it increased to 16.4 weeks, a jump of almost 5 weeks from the 2019 median. Still, waiting 4 months for heart surgery cannot be easy. 

Otorhinolaryngology (a medical and surgical specialty that focuses on head and neck diseases and disorders) and Urology were the only two specialties that increased in 2020 from 2019, and then decreased by 2022. However, the 2022 wait times were still longer than the wait times in 2019. 

Wait Times by Diagnostic Tests 

Need a scan or test to confirm a possible diagnosis? Each year, Canadian wait times increase for all three.  

An ultrasound has the shortest wait time at 4.9 weeks, computed tomography (CT) scans have a median wait time of 5.4 weeks. A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan could see you waiting up to 10.6 weeks (about 2 and a half months). In Prince Edward Island, that number is an astonishing 20 weeks (about 4 and a half months). 

Wait Times by Province 

There is some rare, good news to report for provincial wait times in 2022. While most provinces saw an increase over the 2021 wait times, British Columbia and Saskatchewan both decreased slightly.  

On the reverse side, however, the eastern-most provinces were hit hard with drastic increases. Prince Edward Island went from 41.6 weeks (about 9 and a half months) in 2019, to 49.3 weeks (about 11 and a half months) in 2021, to a whopping 64.7 weeks (about 1 year 3 months) in 2022. Nine and half months was already an atrocious length of time, and the increase is surely demoralizing for both patients and health care workers. 

Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as Nova Scotia are also seeing bleak wait times, with both provinces reporting a 58.2 median wait time in 2022. The most extreme change was also seen here, with Newfoundland and Labrador adding over 35 weeks (about 8 months) to their median wait times.


As we adjust to the new life landscape the pandemic has shaped, Canadian wait times seem almost immune. Continuing the status quo may not be an option if this trend continues and citizens are unable to receive timely care. And as solutions are explored, will medical referral services become more common?

Download our 2022 Wait Times Infographic to get all the comparisons.

Wait Times for Health Care in Canada Infographic 2022 (PDF: 357KB)


Data is derived from Waiting Your Turn: Wait Times for Health Care in Canada 2022 Report from the Fraser Institute  

Median wait times by Province – 2019, 2021, and 2022 comparison 

BC – 24.0 weeks (2019), 26.2 weeks (2021), 25.8 weeks (2022) 

AB – 28.0 weeks (2019), 24.0 weeks (2021), 33.3 weeks (2022) 

SK – 26.0 weeks (2019), 30.9 weeks (2021), 30.1 weeks (2022) 

MB – 32.4 weeks (2019), 31.5 weeks (2021), 41.3 weeks (2022) 

ON – 16.0 weeks (2019), 18.5 weeks (2021), 20.3 weeks (2022) 

QB – 16.3 weeks (2019), 29.1 weeks (2021), 29.4 weeks (2022) 

NF – 23.4 weeks (2019), 21.1 weeks (2021), 58.2 weeks (2022) 

NB – 39.7 weeks (2019), 41.5 weeks (2021), 43.3 weeks (2022) 

PEI – 49.3 weeks (2019), 41.6 weeks (2021), 64.7 weeks (2022) 

NS – 33.3 weeks (2019), 53.2 weeks (2021), 58.2 weeks (2022) 

(Weeks waited from General Practitioner referral to treatment.) 



Study and treatment of disorders of the heart and blood vessels.  

General Surgery1 

Surgical care for alimentary tract, abdomen, breast, skin, and soft tissue, and the endocrine system. 


A medical and surgical specialty that focuses on head and neck diseases and disorders. 


Study and treatment of disorder of the eye. 

Orthopaedic Surgery 

Treatment of disorders of the bones, joints, ligaments, tendons and muscles. 


Treatment of the male and female urinary tract (including kidneys). 

Median wait times by specialty – 2019, 2021, and 2022 comparison 

Cardiology – 11.2 weeks (2019), 11.8 weeks (2021), 16.4 weeks (2022) 

General Surgery – 14.9 weeks (2019), 18.1 weeks (2021), 19.8 weeks (2022) 

Otorhinolaryngology – 25.3 weeks (2019), 34.3 weeks (2021), 28.7 weeks (2022) 

Ophthalmology – 28.4 weeks (2019), 30.6 weeks (2021), 35.0 weeks (2022) 

Orthopaedic Surgery – 39.1 weeks (2019), 46.7 weeks (2021), 48.4 weeks (2022) 

Urology – 15.1 weeks (2019), 21.6 weeks (2021), 19.2 weeks (2022) 

(Weeks waited from General Practitioner referral to treatment) 

Diagnostic Tests – Median Wait Times for all of Canada 

CT Scan – 4.8 weeks (2019), 5.2 weeks (2021), 5.4 weeks (2022) 

MRI – 9.3 weeks (2019), 10.2 weeks (2021), 10.6 weeks (2022) 

Ultrasound – 3.4 weeks (2019), 3.6 weeks (2021), 4.9 weeks (2022) 

In New Brunswick you’ll be waiting 8 weeks to receive a CT-Scan compared to Saskatchewan, Ontario and Newfoundland & Labrador, where you’ll only be waiting 4 weeks. 

Need an MRI? 

In Prince Edward Island, you could be waiting for up to 5 months (20 weeks).  


Waiting Your Turn: Wait Times for Health Care in Canada, 2022 Report | Fraser Institute: 

1Canadian Association of General Surgeons: