CMA to First Ministers: URGENT! 16 years is too long to make health a priority
December 7, 2020
On Thursday, Canada’s premiers will make health care a priority agenda item for the first time in 16 years. The last time the First Ministers’ Meeting focused on health care, we were learning how to use iPod’s and a Harvard sophomore had just invented a web service called Facebook.
While our world has evolved significantly since 2004, our health care commitments have remained in a time capsule. Sixteen years ago, Canada’s leaders struck an agreement to reduce wait times in this country. Yet today, this same issue is still being debated — with no solutions in sight.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) wants to be clear: there is no appetite in this country for political posturing or missed opportunities. 2020 has not only highlighted the important role health care plays in our daily lives, it has also exposed the fragility of our system. For decades, we have been grappling with the problems that have been exacerbated by this pandemic. It is time our leaders show the political resolve to fix health care.
The CMA is calling for action on 5 priority areas, to manage the pandemic and build back health care sustainability.
Managing the latest phase of this pandemic
1) Avoid patient care delays through stringent public health measures
During the first wave of the pandemic, wait times for many procedures skyrocketed, and many patients deferred care for health conditions that needed attention.
With COVID-19 cases rising, we are gravely concerned patients will again face delays and postponed procedures, with detrimental and long-term consequences to their health.
The CMA wants commitment on an effective pandemic response and the adoption of more stringent public health measures to contain the virus and to protect broader health outcomes.
2) Collaborate on the COVID-19 vaccine strategy
The arrival of an effective vaccine is the light at the end of the tunnel, however, we anticipate demand will exceed supply. The CMA advocates for prioritizing at-risk groups — including vulnerable seniors, remote Indigenous communities, and front-line health workers. We also call for transparency in the decision-making process, as this will foster confidence at a time when we need Canadians to embrace immunization.
Building the road to health care sustainability
Our health care system is dealing with unacceptable resource shortages. As a result, Canadians face a chronic lack of access to care, surgery backlogs, a strained long-term care system, and health care workers who are burning out. To deal with the immediate impacts of the pandemic, the CMA is recommending emergency measures in the following areas:
3) Targeted federal funding to address long-term care
The first wave of the pandemic revealed serious deficits in long-term facilities, with residents of these facilities amongst the most severely affected. In a November survey by Ipsos, commissioned by the CMA, most Canadians vowed they would go to great lengths to avoid moving into a long-term care facility.
As our population ages, it is imperative that our health care system, and subsequent health funding, support and care for this growing demographic. The CMA is calling for both immediate and longstanding commitments to protect long-term care residents.
A key first step is for the federal government to work directly with the provinces and increase targeted funding through a demographic-based top-up to the Canada Health Transfer.
4) New federal funding to address the backlog
The first wave shutdown caused a significant spike in wait times for surgeries and procedures, further straining the delivery of care. Recent estimates suggest we could see the worst wait times of our generation unless we tackle the backlog of surgeries and procedures.
5) Supporting health workers
The health workforce has demonstrated extraordinary resilience under immense pressure. From coping with a lack of appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) in the early days of the pandemic to managing the current rise in infections, the health care workforce has done their best to adapt. They need greater support – from ongoing acquisition and distribution of PPE to further support in mental health and wellness during and beyond the crisis – to help them care for Canadians.
In addition to these immediate measures, the CMA supports increased long-term funding to build health care sustainability. To achieve this, we ask our First Ministers to work together and take decisive action to renew our commitment to an effective and thriving health care system. Nothing else is acceptable.