Cold Hard Wonk

No sentiment but politics

Waiting for Godot

Posted by JJ in Doubletake/Doubletalk, Vague Check (Friday January 12, 2007 at 2:23 pm)

Yesterday’s announcement by Prime Minister Harper of a new wait-time program should raise some eyebrows.

The program will develop a nationwide information system to collect information on wait times for six paediatric areas. Once in place, the system will make it possible to determine just how long kids are waiting for the care they need. Naturally, the announcement doesn’t mean that wait times will be reduced — just that we’ll know how long they are.

Which begs the question: why does the government think this is a good idea?

The provincial governments agreed to a set of wait-time targets just last year, having already decided on a series of priorities. Can’t the federal government work with them to advance that project? Why set up a parallel program lagging the provincial one by one step?

The federal government is hoping that their emphasis on children’s health care will be enough of a difference to set their program apart. The provincial program will focus on different areas:

  • Radiation therapy to treat cancer within four weeks of patients being ready to treat
  • Hip fracture fixation within 48 hours
  • Hip replacements within 26 weeks
  • Knee replacements within 26 weeks
  • Surgery to remove cataracts within 16 weeks for patients who are at high risk
  • Breast cancer screening for women aged 50 to 69 every two years
  • Cervical cancer screening for women aged 18 to 69 every three years after two normal tests

Children are an abundant mine of empathy, but if the government hasn’t started to collect data yet, what evidence do they have that there are comparable problems in respect of children’s care? The provinces have already done surveys to determine what areas have greatest need; and they represent a diverse enough group of parties and regions to reject the theory that they decided, en masse, to abandon children’s issues in favour of a more politically expedient focus on older patients and women. Don’t those two groups of voters care about children, too?

Besides which, working with the provinces to reduce wait times in these areas would build administrators’ ability to do just that, speeding future reductions. Working in parallel on two separate tracks is therefore likely to take longer than applying joint efforts to each in sequence.

But in reviewing both programs, there is one striking similarity. They’re both designed to force the development of proposals to reduce wait times, not to force action on wait times. The timelines for the latter are so elongated that relief seems anything but imminent.

If, then, you ask what the arrival of children on the rhetorical field of health care means, it is that shorter wait times will not come today, but surely to-morrow.

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