Unprecedented Spine Surgery Delays Risk Canada’s Juvenile Health, Costs Soar to $44.6M


In a disquieting revelation, a recently published report discloses that four in ten juveniles awaiting spine surgery in Canada are facing potentially perilous waiting periods. These delays are projected to bear a hefty burden on the Canadian health-care sector, amounting to $44.6 million in costs.

The report uncovers that anticipated timelines for critical spinal interventions, essential for children, are frequently breaching precautionary clinical wait periods in various regions across Canada. These tardy treatments often pave the way for escalated issues due to disease progression, complications, necessitating intricate procedures, extended hospital stays, readmissions, and long rehabilitation processes.

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Largely spotlighting scoliosis – a spinal abnormality manifesting as lateral curvature – the report accentuates the broader problem of protracted wait times for pediatric surgeries, severely exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Albeit treatable with orthotic braces and physical therapy, severe scoliosis can necessitate surgical recourse such as spinal rods or spinal fusion. The report estimates roughly 2,778 children currently await such surgical interventions in Canada.

One such patient is the daughter of Paul Fontaine, who shared that his daughter is on a priority-based waitlist, with hopes they might secure a surgery date within the year.

The most severe delays are observed in Nova Scotia, where about seven in ten children receive spinal surgeries beyond the recommended six-month interval. A state-by-state analysis places British Columbia, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, Ontario, and Alberta close behind.

Delaying surgeries, the report warns, risks severe consequences including intensified spinal curvature and a greater need for sophisticated procedures. Not only does this compound the healthcare costs, but it also affects economic productivity as caregivers are required to take time off work.

In recommendation, there have been calls for enhanced pediatric healthcare investments, increasing surgical capacities, prioritizing postponed surgeries, and implementing a pooled referral system to expedite patient service.

Despite a perceived improvement in surgery volumes, Chad Leaver, Health and Human Capital Director at the Conference Board of Canada, stresses the backlog will persist unless surgeries are executed at an enhanced pace.

Moreover, the pandemic added to an already considerable strain on patient waitlists. Ontario alone reported an alarming 26% increase in children on surgery waitlists compared to the pre-pandemic era, while B.C. had around 7,000 children awaiting surgeries as of June 2023.

Emphasizing an urgent requirement for strategic investments across the children’s healthcare systems continuum, Emily Gruenwoldt, President and CEO of Children’s Healthcare Canada, appreciates the Conference Board for spotlighting the economic repercussion of healthcare delays.

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