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Half of Canadians with health needs faced hurdles to care, pandemic survey suggests

About half of Canadians in need of health care had difficulty accessing services during the first year of the COVID-19 crisis, a new report by Statistics Canada suggests, and one expert warns such disruptions could pose serious medical problems down
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About half of Canadians in need of health care had difficulty accessing services during the first year of the COVID-19 crisis, a new report by Statistics Canada suggests, and one expert warns such disruptions could pose serious medical problems down the line.

The findings released Tuesday are based on the responses of 25,268 adults in 10 provinces — including 6,517 Indigenous individuals — to a survey last spring about the pandemic's impacts on health care.

The data showed 49 per cent of respondentswith medical needs reported difficultyaccessing care between March 2020 and May 2021.

Nearly one in 10 participants who needed health care services reported that they couldn't book at least one appointment, and 28 per cent said scheduled services were cancelled, moved or delayed.

Statistics Canada noted that 85 per cent of respondents said they got the health care they needed in spite of these hurdles, while the remaining 15 per cent did not receive at least one required service, such as a consultation with a specialist or an appointment with a family doctor.

Four out of five people who experienced difficulties accessing care indicated that it negatively impacted their life. Among those affected, 20 per cent reported that their condition worsened and their overall health deteriorated.

The survey also found 30 per cent of participants with health concerns said they put off seeking medical attention, with COVID-19 concerns ranking among the top reasons for delays.

Gregory Marchildon, a health policy professor at University of Toronto, said the fallout of these pandemic-related gaps in care should become evident in years to come.

Marchildon said some patients may suffer irreversible damage because of delayed diagnoses, predicting a rise in late-stage cancers and complications from chronic illnesses.

"It will inevitably have an impact," he said. "There are bound to be some serious issues that will crop up later."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 23, 2021.

Adina Bresge, The Canadian Press