Over three million Canadians are stuck on a waiting list for surgery, a diagnostic scan, or to see a specialist, with some estimates pushing the total close to four million, according to new data from a Canadian think-tank.

A SecondStreet.org study has found that nearly 3.2 million people are on these waitlists across the provincial and territorial healthcare systems. 

However, SecondStreet.org says that the data they used – largely received through freedom of information requests – is incomplete, as many jurisdictions were unable to calculate the figure. Prince Edward Island did not provide the think-tank with any data.

In Ontario, the most populous province, over 200,000 citizens are waiting for a surgery and nearly 500,000 are waiting for a diagnostic scan. The number of Ontarians waiting for a specialist was not provided. 

Quebec has 160,000 people waiting for a surgery with over 700,000 waiting for a diagnostic scan and nearly 800,000 waiting to see a specialist. 

From May 2022 to December 2022, Alberta saw a drop in the number of patients waiting for a diagnostic scan from 108,782 to 93,737, a 14% drop. Over 75,000 Albertans are waiting for a surgery with over 175,000 waiting to see a specialist. 

In terms of percentage of the population waiting for a surgery, Saskatchewan ranks the worst with nearly 3% of the population on a surgery waiting list, over 34,000 citizens in total. 

Due to the inability of some provinces to provide complete data, SecondStreet.org estimates that the true number of patients stuck on waiting lists is around 3.8 million. 

“Behind these statistics are countless stories of patients suffering,” said SecondStreet.org President Colin Craig. “Health care spending has exploded over the past three decades yet waiting lists continue to get worse. Keeping the public health care system, but reforming it to more closely match European models could help improve services for patients.”

Ontario’s Progressive Conservative Premier Doug Ford announced earlier in January that the province will be allowing government regulated for-profit clinics to conduct surgeries and scans like MRIs, x-rays and CT scans outside of hospitals in an effort to expand Ontario’s capacity to clear up backlogs and provide timely healthcare. 

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith fired the Alberta Health Service board and replaced the board with a single member in an effort to reduce wait times, among other priorities. Smith has also promised to introduce $300 health spending accounts to allow Albertans to access healthcare services not covered under Alberta’s health insurance.