Importance of Timely Surgery

Most of us-survivors of breast cancer have been through the motions; surgery, chemotherapy, perhaps irradiation or Herceptin as well, the works. For many, the most nerve-wracking time was waiting in line for surgery, and for good reason. According to several reports, including one in Lancet (Richards, 1999), a delay of three months from the first detection of the lump to surgery increases 5-year mortality by 12%… In Canada, the delay can very often be this long. But, as it turns out, we have a strong ally right here at Kingston General Hospital, Dr. Chris Simpson who, although a cardiologist and not involved in breast cancer directly, has helped our cause enormously.

Dr Simpson was the President of the Canadian Medical Association in 2014-15 and elected as the CMA representative to the World Medical Association in 2016. His cv is a mile long. Out of concern over delayed access to care for patients, he co-founded the “Wait Time Alliance” in 2005, an association of several Canadian medical specialty societies, to work collaboratively with stakeholders to improve wait times. The WTA has been informing decision-makers about the economic cost of waiting; that is, the cost to Canada’s economy, because of work-time lost due to sickness plus the increase in cost of treatment. According to a report produced in 2008, the cumulative economic cost of waiting for treatment across just 4 areas (hip and knee replacements, cataract surgery, coronary artery bypass graft and MRI scans) was a conservatively estimated $14.8 billion per year! This of course does not take into account the most important cost of all, the cost to the patients’ health. This report shows clearly that the answer to the question of “how can we afford to reduce wait times” is simply, how can we waste all that money by waiting? In our case especially, no money can be saved since the cancer still has to be operated out, and if it has spread due to the wait, it is so much harder to treat. According to report cards issued by WTA, the wait times have been reduced since 2008. For this, we all owe a big thank you to Dr. Simpson and WTA.