Canada's children face a long waiting period to get their surgeries done, and this exposes them to a high risk of complications with lifelong consequences, states a new study.
The study, by researchers from the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto and the Canadian Paediatric Surgical Wait Times project, involved examining data of 64,012 surgeries performed at children's hospitals across Canada in 2009. The time element was under scrutiny.
It revealed that 27 per cent of children wait for very long especially for eye surgery, plastic surgery, cancer surgery, neurosurgery and heart surgery.
Although in 2004 a pledge had been taken by the country's ministers to cut down waiting time in five crucial areas, all these involved only adults. Children were left out.
"If you're an adult and you have an arthritic hip, it's been declared that you shouldn't wait more than a certain length of time to have your hip replacement. If you are a two-year-old with a painful or potentially dangerous condition, then it should apply just as much, if not more," states Dr. Geoffrey Blair, a pediatric surgeon at B.C. Children's Hospital and a member of the Canadian Paediatric Surgical Wait Times project.
He speaks from his own experience as he had operated on several children who had been waiting more than a year for hernia repair when actually the target was to get it done within three months as hernias can cause pain and pose the risk of causing a blockage of the bowel.
Although 90 per cent of the children in the study had had their surgery within six months, according to Dr. James Wright, surgeon-in-chief at SickKids and lead of the pediatric surgical wait times project, "...when you begin to talk about some of these diagnoses, like cancer surgery, six months doesn't make any sense at all. It may be great that you had your surgery within six months but what you really needed was to have it within three weeks."
Long delays can create unnecessary trauma for families, as well as prolonged pain and disability for the child, he said.
Especially when children have special needs because of their development, surgery needs to be done with urgency. For example, idiopathic scoliosis, curvature of the spine, worsens with waiting. Or, strabismus, a wandering eye, can affect a child's brain development.
The researchers recommend that the country addresses this problem on a national level. Ontario, British Columbia, Alberta and Nova Scotia are taking all efforts to keep to the pediatric access targets and reduce the wait times for children needing surgeries.