Media Releases

No, emergency room waiting times are not going down, they’re going up

Montreal, July 12, 2018 – For decades, successive governments have attempted unsuccessfully to reduce Quebec emergency room waiting times. Earlier this year, statistics indicated that wait times were falling. But data obtained by the Montreal Economic Institute for a publication released today paint a very different picture.

“If waiting times went down this year, it’s essentially because they are not being measured the right way,” says Patrick Déry, public policy analyst and author of the publication.

For the 2017-2018 fiscal year, the average stay in Quebec emergency rooms was 7.3 hours, compared to 7.8 hours the year before, an improvement of half an hour. And for patients on stretchers, the average stay went from 15.6 to 13.7 hours, an impressive decline of nearly two hours at first glance.

However, the median stay, which more closely represents what patients actually experience, went from 9.5 to 9.2 hours last year for patients on stretchers, a more modest improvement of 18 minutes. For all patients, the median time actually went from 4.4 to 4.5 hours, increasing slightly.

“Quebec has been at a standstill when it comes to emergency room waiting times,” Mr. Déry says. “As patients can see every day, there has been no real progress. Despite the millions of dollars the government is showering on our emergency rooms, they continue to rank among the worst in the industrialized world.”

The solution lies in competition, not in throwing more millions around. The move to activity-based financing, expected soon, will encourage healthy competition between hospitals, which represents a step in the right direction.

A second and just as important move would be to turn over the management of a certain number of hospitals to the private sector. “This could take the form of a pilot project,” Patrick Déry suggests. “The aim is to call upon the private sector’s capacity for innovation and flexibility while maintaining the universal funding we are familiar with.”

“We have to stop being afraid when we hear the word ‘private.’ Nearly all industrialized countries use the private sector, and they succeed better than we do. In Germany, for example, only 1% of patients spend more than five hours in emergency rooms. In Quebec, 5.6% of patients are stuck there for more than 24 hours. There is no reason to accept this in 2018,” adds Mr. Déry.

“After more than 40 years of public management that has basically only created waiting lists, and then multiple reforms that have never succeeded in eliminating them, Quebec is ripe for more innovation and entrepreneurship in its hospitals. We owe it to patients,” concludes the author.

The Viewpoint titled “Quebec Hospitals Need Entrepreneurship” was prepared by Patrick Déry, Public Policy Analyst at the MEI. This publication is available on our website.

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The MEI is an independent public policy think tank. Through its publications and media appearances, the MEI stimulates debate on public policies in Quebec and across Canada by proposing reforms based on market principles and entrepreneurship.


Interview requests: Pascale Déry, Vice President, Communications and Development, MEI. Tel.: 514-273-0969 ext. 2233 / Cell: 514-502-6757 / E-mail: pdery@iedm.org

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