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Federal government must spur change with a new health accord, not just cut cheques

By Art Eggleton      

Dr. Chris Simpson, medical director of the cardiac program at Kingston General Hospital, noted that the provinces need not feel threatened by federal involvement because “we are better than the sum of our parts if we focus on the commonalities.”

Health Minister Jane Philpott and the Trudeau government are working with the provinces on a new health accord. The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright

As the federal, provincial, and territory health ministers negotiate a new health accord, the federal government must spur change—not just cut cheques. That was the message that panellists delivered at a public open caucus meeting hosted by Senate Liberals this past Wednesday on the renewal of the health accord.

Past president of the Canadian Medical Association, Dr. Cindy Forbes, suggested one way that the federal government can help to strengthen our health care system: “driving change by participating in the process of agreeing on the vision for improving the system and collaborating with all involved.”

Federal leadership is important, particularly in terms of establishing accountability. Dr. Chris Simpson, medical director of the cardiac program at Kingston General Hospital, noted that the provinces need not feel threatened by federal involvement because “we are better than the sum of our parts if we focus on the commonalities.”

Dale Clement, chief executive officer for the Wellington-Waterloo Community Care Access Centre, provided several concrete examples of how seniors in particular are affected by gaps in our current system. Outcome-based care, a national pharmacare program, and portability were the three specific areas where she believes that, “the federal government can influence improvements in the health of Canadians.”

Indeed, our ageing population is but one element we must consider when examining what changes should be implemented in a new health accord in order to better serve all Canadians.

One of the starkest examples of the inequality of our current system was elaborated upon by Dr. Earl Nowgesic, interim director of Waakebiness-Bryce Institute for Indigenous Health. “Aboriginal peoples in Canada face striking and persistent inequities in health determinants, health status and health care compared to the general Canadian population,” he said, pointing out that there have been numerous studies completed, but what is still missing is tangible progress.

The Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology in 2012 produced a study on the progress of the 2004 Health Accord titled “Time for Transformative Change.” Conservative Senator Kelvin Ogilvie, chair of that committee, stated now that it is “past time” for transformative change and that urgent action is needed.

Ogilvie has since elaborated upon one area that has persistently arose in discussions regarding the inefficiencies of our system: the need for electronic health records. Creating a system that allows patients to be harmoniously treated by family physicians, emergency doctors, pharmacists, and other health care providers would eliminate a number of failures and poor outcomes. He stated that Canada already uses such a system for Canadian tax purposes, which encompasses both provincial/territorial and federal jurisdictions. “If we can do that, there’s no reason why we can’t have an electronic health record.”

Dr. Danielle Martin, vice president of medical affairs and health system solutions at the Women’s College Hospital, offered up the suggestion of focusing on social infrastructure as a means of progress that should be undertaken at the federal level in order to improve our health care system. Many innovative ideas for care have already been implemented throughout our country; they just need to be scaled up. “The job of the federal government is to help identify those stellar practices and work to make sure that they are made available to every single Canadian so that it doesn’t depend on where you live,” she said.

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