Canada’s premiers gathered in Victoria on Monday to present a united voice to demand an increase in recurring funding for Ottawa health care to address a staffing crisis that has forced the temporary closure of emergency departments, resulting in record levels of worker burnout and created barriers for Canadians to access health services.
Quebec Premier Francois Legault said the provinces spend about $200 billion a year on health services, with the federal government paying about $40 billion (or 22%) in Canada transfer payments for health care. health. Premiers have been asking Ottawa for years to increase that percentage to 35%.
“It is important that they share more than 22% because health is the only expense that is growing at a rate of 5 to 6% per year, due to aging and the impact of new technologies,” said Mr. Legault told reporters on Monday ahead of the two-day meeting. “We cannot afford to continue as we are doing now.”
All 13 provincial and territorial premiers of Canada are members of the Council of the Federation (COF), created in 2003 to promote interprovincial-territorial cooperation. This week’s meeting is the first in-person gathering since 2019.
Health leaders have described provincial health care systems as being in crisis. Staffing shortages in British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario have led to hours-long wait times and pushed emergency departments to capacity, with some forced to close due to understaffing. Six emergency departments in rural southwestern Ontario experienced temporary closures over the weekend, with some extending into the week.
BC Premier and COF Chair John Horgan said one-time injections of funds are insufficient to address these issues because they do not allow for long-term planning.
“We need sustainable and predictable funding from Ottawa so that we can expand our budgets, make commitments to health care professionals on how we will meet their needs and, most importantly, provide patient services who expect nothing less than our very best,” he said.
Horgan said the premiers will also discuss barriers to getting more internationally trained health care workers accredited to work in Canada, and the issue of interprovincial staffing challenges.
“The notion of poaching is an integral part of what we are going to discuss today,” he said. “We face a national challenge when it comes to recruiting and retaining qualified healthcare workers, whether they are nurse practitioners, doctors, surgeons or general practitioners.
A statement from the office of Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos says Ottawa has invested more than $72 billion in health care since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, in addition to $3 billion each for three other investments: bilateral long-term agreements – long-term care, mental health and home care.
Some premiers have argued that funding for health care began as a 50-50 cost-sharing, with the federal government’s share decreasing over the years. However, a change in 1997, accepted by the provinces, replaced the federal government’s share with a combination of money and tax points transferred from the federal government to the provinces.
The federal government says that when the value of these tax points is taken into account, the share of provincial and territorial spending covered by the Canada Health Transfer averages 33% today, which is similar to the historical average.
Katharine Smart, president of the Canadian Medical Association, said years of poor planning have led to the collapse of the healthcare system and governments now appear to be in a state of inertia.
“These are years of lack of political will to recognize that we have a health care system that was designed in the 1960s and has been failing for years, with no one wanting to act,” she said.
“Let’s stop pointing fingers and winning political points. Even a simple desire to move away from politics and focus more on action and the search for solutions would go a long way.
Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians president Michael Howlett said the problems facing health care systems across the country have been magnified by the pandemic and created a ‘perfect storm’ leading to the crisis in emergency services.
Overcrowding, combined with a shrinking workforce and lack of resources, has led to record hospital occupancy and long wait times, Dr Howlett said in an interview with The Globe and Mail on Monday. A growing number of people in hospital waiting for community care has resulted in a backlog in the system for people needing beds and for more nurses to care for them.
“We are losing a lot of staff to these inherent pressures of crowding. So overcrowding coupled with less staff means a spiral in which we have increasing needs due to the elderly population, we have less staff to care for them and less hospital resources as well and no way to do them out in the community,” Dr. Howlett said. said.
In Quebec, paramedics from 40 ambulance services have been on strike since Canada Day, demanding pay and pension conditions comparable to those of other healthcare workers in the province after significant burnout during the COVID-19 pandemic. 19. Emergency care will still be provided under the province’s Essential Services Act and the strike will see paramedics limit some non-emergency services and stop performing other tasks, such as filling out billing forms.
Alberta’s health care system is also facing staffing shortages, and some rural facilities have been hit by temporary emergency room closures amid a surge in patient numbers. To address pressure on paramedics, the province recently added nine ambulances in the major cities of Calgary and Edmonton to reduce demand on the existing fleet.
With a report from The Canadian Press.
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