Posted on June 25, 2009

Response to the Senator accusing Canada of having "staggering" wait times from Canadian Surgeon and Hospital Executive Dr. David Zelt


By Dr. David Zelt
The Kingston Whig Standard

Dr. David Zelt, chief of staff and vice-president, medical administration, at Kingston General Hospital, sent the following reply to McConnell.

I am writing with reference to remarks you made in an address this past week to the United States Senate.

As a surgeon and hospital executive in Canada, I am well aware of the debate now taking place in your country over the role of government in making medical services more widely available to the millions of your fellow U. S. citizens who are now without such vital protection.

The purpose of this letter is not to interfere in that debate, although I would be remiss if I did not declare that I am a proud participant in our public healthcare system in Canada and value its ability to guarantee quality and accessible care to all our citizens regardless of their financial circumstances. Is our system perfect? Definitely not. Are costs and ever-increasing demand a challenge? Definitely yes.

I am writing to you at this time to correct and update information that you provided to the U. S. Senate this week about Kingston General Hospital (KGH), where I am chief of staff and vice-president, medical administration. I am confident that you, as someone playing a major role in the current health-care debate in your country, would want to make your arguments based on material that is both correct and current.

You chose our hospital to provide “a glimpse of the effect that government-run health care has on everyday Canadians and the long waits they routinely endure for necessary care.”

At KGH we are proud of our reputation as a medium-size regional health science centre providing excellence in research, academic and patient care standards. I respectfully submit that the information you supplied to the U. S. Senate is not an accurate or fair “glimpse” of either our institution or our national health-care system.

For example, you state that at KGH wait times can be

“staggering.” This is simply not true. Our average and median wait times exceed provincial targets. Your researchers have taken data and interpreted it incorrectly, with the result that your information is inaccurate.

Your statement to the Senate: “Today, the average wait time for (hip replacement) surgery at KGH is about 196 days.” In fact, our actual average hip replacement wait time is 91 days — less than half of what you stated.

Your statement to the Senate: “What about knee replacements? Well, at Kingston General, the average wait time is 340 days, or almost a year from the moment that the doctor says you need a new knee.” In fact, our average wait time for knee replacements is 109 days.

Your statement to the Senate: “What about brain cancer? In Ontario the target wait time for brain cancer surgery is nearly three months; same for breast cancer and prostate cancer.” These are simply that, targets. In fact, at KGH our average overall wait times for surgical treatment of all forms of cancer is 31 days (16 days for breast cancer, 49 for prostate and eight for neurosurgical cancer).

Your statement to the Senate: “And for cardiac bypass surgery, patients in Ontario are told they may have to wait six months for a surgery that Americans can often get right away.” In fact, the median wait time for cardiac surgery in Ontario is 16 days (32 days at KGH).

In summary, Senator McConnell, in an effort to advance your position opposing public health care, you have maligned a very proud institution whose service to our community dates back some 170 years. The “glimpse” you have provided of our national healthcare system neglects to mention that at its very base is Canadians’ fundamental right to accessible and quality health care regardless of their financial circumstances.

In closing, Senator, I thank you for this opportunity to bring this information to your attention. We have an excellent data collection system at our hospital and I would invite you or a member of your staff to contact me or other officials of this institution for accurate and current information that would be helpful in keeping the American public correctly informed during your important and ongoing debate on health care.