Canada is known for having one of the best healthcare systems in the world, with the population having universal access to medical services. The health care system in Canada is based on the principles of affordability, equality, and universality and provides health care to all Canadians regardless of their level of income, employment status, or pre-existing health conditions.

In this article, we look at the statistics around the healthcare system in Canada, including the number of hospital beds, doctors, and nurses as well as wait times, and what Canadians see as the biggest issues with the country’s health care system.

Health Care System Statistics for Canadians

  • Since 2020, Canada’s yearly health expenditure has been over $300 billion.
  • The healthcare expenditure was 11.68% of Canada’s GDP in 2021.
  • Approximately 65% of Canadians have private, complementary health insurance to cover costs not covered under public health insurance.
  • There were 1,300 hospitals in Canada in 2021.
  • The number of hospital beds per 1,000 people has decreased to 2.5 beds in 2021.
  • There were almost 94,000 doctors in Canada in 2021.
  • Only 8% of Canadian doctors practise in rural areas.
  • In 2021, there were over 459,000 registered nurses in Canada.
  • Waiting times for treatment have gone up 175% since 1993.
  • 63% of Canadians see the lack of staff as a problem for the health care system.

About the Canadian Health Care System

The Canadian health care system is known as Medicare and it is a publicly funded system. Each of the ten provinces and three territories has its own healthcare insurance plan. The healthcare system in Canada aims to ensure that all residents have access to hospital and doctor services that are medically necessary without financial implications.

The health care service roles and responsibilities are shared between the federal government and the provincial and territorial governments, which are responsible for the organisation, delivery, and management of health care services for the Canadians living in that province/territory.

The federal government also has several responsibilities. It sets and administers the national standards for the health care systems through the Canada Health Act. It supports the delivery of health care to specific groups and other health-related activities and provides funding support for the care services in each province and territory.

About Canada Health Act

The Canada Health Act is a Canadian federal law establishing the framework for the publicly funded healthcare system. Every province and territory in Canada must ensure that their health care insurance plans meet the standards of the Canada Health Act. The standards described in the Act include accessibility, portability, universality, comprehensiveness, and public administration.

In short, this means that all provinces and territories must have planned health care in a manner that is reasonably accessible to all residents. The plan must cover all residents, including when they are travelling within Canada and to some extent outside Canada. The plan includes all necessary medical services by doctors, hospitals, and dentists and must be administered by a public authority on a non-profit basis.

Health Expenditure

The spending on health services has more than doubled in Canada between 2005 and 2022 according to Statista. In 2005, the health expenditure was $140.4 billion. The first time it rose to over $200 billion was in 2012 when it was $207.9 billion. The $300 billion mark was crossed in 2020 when the total expenditure was $305 billion. This was the biggest single increase from $269.4 billion in 2019.

The sharp rise in health expenditure was likely due to the COVID-19 pandemic with more people hospitalised than normal and the cost of providing vaccinations to Canadians. However, the expenditure was projected to continue climbing by Statista, reaching $328.4 billion in 2021 and $330.9 billion in 2022.

Percentage of Health Expenditure of Canada’s GDP

The percentage of the health care system in Canada’s GDP has also been on the rise. In 2000, the health expenditure was 8.25% of Canada’s GDP according to the World Bank. It rose to 10.72% in 2009 and has then remained consistently over 10% for the next decade. In 2020, the health expenditure was 12.94% of the GDP, which could be expected because of COVID-19-related extra expenses. In 2021, the expenditure was 11.68% of Canada’s GDP.

Private Health Insurance

While the Health Care Act ensures that all Canadians are covered by public health insurance, it does not cover all medical expenses. For example, some dental and vision care, prescription medications, and podiatry and chiropractic services will not be covered.

For this reason, 67% of Canadians have private, complementary health insurance. Most of the private health insurance covers, about 90% in 2015, are paid for by employers, employment unions, or other organisations. Private insurance accounted for approximately 12% of all health spending in 2017.

Hospitals in Canada

In 2021, there were 1,300 hospitals in Canada with most of them in Ontario, Quebec, and Alberta. Ontario had 387, Quebec 225, and Alberta 177 hospitals. The lowest number of hospitals were in the territories and on Prince Edward Island. There were 28 hospitals in Nunavut, 22 in Northwest Territories, in Yukon, and 11 on Prince Edward Island. Over 644,000 people worked in Canadian hospitals in 2019.

The number of general hospitals was about fifteen per one million Canadians. This means the rate of general hospitals is higher than in the United States, but lower compared to many other OECD countries.

The Number of Hospital Beds in Canada

The number of hospital beds per one thousand people has been decreasing for several decades. In the 1970s and early 1980s, there were almost seven hospital beds per one thousand people. By 1988, the number of beds had been reduced to 6.5 per one thousand people.

From there, the number of hospital beds has decreased faster, and in 1990, there were only six hospital beds per one thousand Canadians. Ten years later, in 2000, the number of beds was just 3.8. In 2019, there were only 2.5 hospital beds per one thousand people.

Doctors in Canada

According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), there were 93,998 doctors in Canada in 2021, which represented 246 doctors per 100,000 population. The number of doctors grew by 2% from 2020. However, the number of family doctors grew by just 1.2% with most new doctors, with a 2.8% growth, being specialists.

52% of doctors in Canada are family practitioners and the remaining 48% are specialists. The proportion of women doctors continues to rise in Canada and 49.1% of family doctors and 39.5% of specialists were women in 2021. The average age among all doctors in Canada was 49.2. The average age for women doctors was lower, with 46.1 years compared to 51.7 years.

Ontario Has the Most Doctors

Ontario, with the largest population, had the highest number of doctors with approximately 36,000 active doctors in the province. Quebec and British Columbia had approximately 22,000 and 12,000 doctors respectively. The number of doctors was the lowest in the territories. Northwest Territories had around 120, Yukon 75, and Nunavut 55 doctors.

Only 8% of Canadian doctors Practise in Rural Areas

Canadians living in rural areas have fewer doctors per capita than people living in urban areas. About 19% of Canadians are living in rural areas but only 8% of doctors operate in these areas.

Quebec Has the Highest Medical School Graduate Retention Rate

Saskatchewan has the highest concentration of doctors who graduated outside Canada at 52%. Quebec has the highest number of Canadian graduates at 90%. Quebec also has the highest percentage of graduates staying to practise medicine in the province. 86% of Quebec’s medical school graduates stay in the province compared to the average rate of 74%. Nova Scotia has the lowest retention rate with only 38% of graduates choosing to practise medicine in the province.

Nurses in Canada

In 2021, Canada had 459,005 regulated nurses who were eligible to practise according to the Canadian Nurses Association. The number of registered nurses grew by 2.5% and the number of nurse practitioners by 10.7% from the previous years,

The majority of nurses in Canada are women. 91% of nurses were female or identified as female in 2021. Just over half, at 54.6%, of Canadian nurses work in hospitals, 13.7% work in community health, 13.6% work in long-term care or nursing homes, and 7.4% work in other employment settings.

Ontario Has the Most Nurses

Considering that Ontario has the most doctors and the largest population, it is not surprising that it also has the most nurses. According to Statista, there were 98,899 nurses in Ontario in 2021, Quebec had 73,026 and British Columbia had 38,288 nurses. The lowest number of nurses was in Yukon where there were only 543 nurses.

Waiting Times in Canada

According to the Fraser Institute which has been surveying waiting times in Canada for nearly three decades, in 2021, the waiting time until treatment was 25.6 weeks after a referral was made by a general practitioner. It was three weeks longer than in 2020 when it was 22.6 weeks. Since 1993, when patients waited 9.3 weeks on average, the wait times have gone up by 175%.

However, how long patients are waiting varies across the country. In 2021, the shortest waiting times were in Ontario where the average wait was 18.5 and the longest in Nova Scotia with 53.2 weeks. There is variation between specialists, too. Neurosurgical procedures have the longest waiting times at 49.2 weeks and radiation treatment the shortest at 3.7 weeks.

What Canadians See as the Biggest Problems

Considering the long waiting times between referral and treatment, it is not surprising this is seen as one of the biggest problems facing the Canadian health care system. 47% of Canadians view the wait times as one of the key issues. However, the main problem with the health care system according to Canadians is the lack of staff with 63% of the population seeing staffing as a key issue.

Other key issues include the ageing population at 29%, bureaucracy at 20%, and lack of investment in preventative care at 18%. It seems that despite the long waiting times and lack of staff, most Canadians are happy with the treatment they received with only 7% saying poor treatment quality was an issue.

Conclusion

All Canadians have access to free universal healthcare, which means they have access to all necessary medical care regardless of their income level or background. While public health insurance covers all Canadians, almost two-thirds of the population have additional health insurance to cover for treatments not included under the public health insurance.

In total, there were 1,300 hospitals in 2021 with most of them located in the most populated provinces. While the number of hospital beds per one thousand Canadians has decreased, the waiting times have increased, with people waiting almost half a year for treatment to start. However, there are big differences across the country.

Frequently Asked Questions

The average waiting time for medical treatment in Canada is 25.6 weeks with the shortest wait times in Ontario and longest in Nova Scotia.

The number of hospital  beds per capita has declined in Canada. In 2021, there were only 2.5 hospital beds per one thousand people compared to 6 in 1990.

In 2021, there were 93,998 doctors in Canada.

Sources