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July 10, 2014

Socioeconomic status does not impact surgical wait times for kids in Ontario, SickKids study says

Because access to care is a key component to delivering quality care, doctors at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) recently investigated how socioeconomic status may affect access to surgical care among children in Ontario.

Researchers analyzed referral and surgical wait times for almost 40,000 surgical procedures at SickKids between 2005 and 2011. They found that socioeconomic status did not impact the timeliness of surgical services among children. The study is published in the July 7 online edition of Pediatrics

“Our results are important because they demonstrate that access to specialized surgical care for children in Ontario is equal across all socioeconomic levels, not only when assessed as household income, unemployment and education but also when assessed as influences such as single-parent households,” says Dr. Jim Wright, co-author of the study and Surgeon-in-Chief at SickKids.

Few studies have investigated the effects of socioeconomic status on surgical wait times and none have looked at this in paediatric setting. “When children need specialized surgery, barriers to care and longer wait times have an even more profound impact,” says Dr. Gregory Borschel, co-author of the study, and Surgeon in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at SickKids. “Prompt access to surgical care can decrease adverse events, and prevent unnecessary emergency department visits.”

The Paediatric Canadian Access Targets for Surgery (P-CATS) is the standard classification system that was developed to establish wait time targets for children across Canada. Over the entire study period a third of children did not meet their access targets, which is what initially prompted the SickKids team to investigate if socioeconomic status was a contributing factor. In recent years, however only 13 per cent are not receiving surgery within target, explains Wright.

Long wait times are often cited as a weakness of publicly funded health-care systems. The study suggests that the present system serves the children of Ontario reasonably well and that this approach may be applied to the care of other vulnerable populations in North America and elsewhere.