July 28, 2022
The current widespread difficulty in getting timely access to care due to health workforce shortages across the country are a direct result of the political and jurisdictional divides that have hindered the evolution of our archaic health system and kept it from truly putting patients first.
We saw it again earlier this month as the annual summer get-together of provincial and territorial leaders – the Council of the Federation – ended with the usual call for more federal funding of healthcare services. To be clear, the healthcare system desperately needs that increased investment, but Canadians expect and deserve more.
Canada’s healthcare system needs a bold vision of what a 21st century healthcare system should look like. This vision needs to break down healthcare’s silos and outdated infrastructure that hinder the flow of information and resources across the system and it must address ineffective health research funding models that hamper innovation and discovery.
Canada’s population is older and more diverse than when our health system was originally designed more than half a century ago. More older adults want to age well at home with appropriate supports rather than move to long-term care. Demand for mental health and substance use care far outstrips the services available. Patients rightly want more freedom in accessing their digital health information, and for virtual care gains brought on by COVID-19 to continue to complement in-person care.
Yet time and again the approach to addressing health system challenges has been far more “politically-focused” than “patient-focused”, with accountability continuously being bounced back and forth between provincial/ territorial governments and the federal government.
The fact that patients can access modern healthcare services at all is a testament to the innovation and dedication of healthcare workers and health researchers. That said, they have stretched their capacity to innovate to the absolute limits that our health system, in its current state, will allow, and the gaps are not just showing, they’re expanding. The health system needs a complete overhaul, now.
We cannot stress enough that money alone will not solve what ails healthcare in Canada, nor will pouring more resources into a system that doesn’t work. An all-hands-on-deck approach that involves pan-Canadian collaboration between provincial/territorial leaders, federal leaders, patients, health system leaders, and care providers is the only way we will find innovative, system-wide solutions to the many crises plaguing our healthcare system. Today’s healthcare leaders and providers are all aligned in terms of what needs to be done going forward. Now it’s time for political leaders to align and act.
Enabling healthcare workers to provide care across jurisdictions and streamlining the licensing process for qualified internationally educated health professionals should be the first steps political leaders take to create capacity within the health system in the short term. This would then allow the focus to turn to developing and implementing longer term, pan-Canadian solutions such as:
- Creating a health human resources strategy and a collaborative planning body to bolster Canada’s health workforce.
- Updating administrative, regulatory and funding policies to better support the implementation and expansion of virtual care and digital health solutions to improve the exchange of health information among healthcare providers, institutions and jurisdictions.
- Allowing hospitals, research institutes, health authorities, and long-term care facilities direct and equal access to federal infrastructure and research funding to modernize and improve our health system.
- Prioritizing knowledge translation efforts and programs to advance the use of health research data and evidence in practice in the health system to strengthen health research and innovation in Canada.
If we – led by our governments and political leaders– tackle our health system’s woes with the same collaborative spirit and sense of urgency that we did at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, we can create a functional, high-quality health system able to withstand surges in demand for services that is also a safe and sustainable work environment for healthcare workers. We can provide safe, comfortable environments for patients without making them wait for days on a stretcher in a hallway. We can attract and retain the very best talent in health research and innovation from across the world without resorting to talent poaching. We can facilitate the flow of health data and patient information across institutions and jurisdictions effectively and securely.
Talk of dollars and cents by our politicians must now make room for common sense action to improve the healthcare system. People across Canada are tired of political leaders on all levels quibbling over percentages and being accountable only to each other. It’s time to be accountable to the people of Canada and build a system that works.
President & CEO
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