World Politics

New health accord should confront most pressing crisis – primary care

A stethoscope and blood pressure monitor.

The federal and provincial governments are heading toward a deal on health care, which they could announce any day now.

Both sides have been sending out positive signals. They say they have found large areas of agreement.

Such an accord will inevitably include a significant increase in the federal contribution, which now goes up at a mere three per cent per year. For their part, the provinces will agree to some tangible measures of accountability for how they spend the money. 

The deal cannot come too soon.

The crisis in the health care system is real. The recent deaths of two women who sought, but failed to get, treatment at emergency departments in Nova Scotia hospitals drove that point home.

One woman waited hours in agony and when doctors finally saw her it was too late. The other got tired of waiting, left, and then, within an hour, died.

Not just in Nova Scotia, but throughout Canada wait times are a huge challenge facing our provincially-run health care systems. 

Canadians in every province fear they will suffer pain and discomfort, or worse, while they wait for essential treatment.

Wait times and lack of family physicians

Even before the pandemic wait times were, overall, unacceptably long. 

Emergency departments were frequently over-crowded, in large measure because, lacking adequate primary care, many Canadians had no choice but to go to emergency when they had relatively minor health problems such as colds and coughs.

There were also long waits for many diagnostic procedures and surgeries, especially those considered elective, that is, not essential to save a patient’s life. 

Hip and knee replacement surgeries, and some non-urgent pediatric surgeries, were chief among those. 

Some patients, in some provinces, also reported distressingly long wait times for tests to detect cancers and for cancer treatments – although provincial health systems were generally more prompt for such essential care than for the elective kind.

The pandemic made all of that worse. 

In response to the exigencies of COVID, hospitals had to radically change their modi operandi, which meant even longer waits in emergency departments and indefinite delay for tens of thousands of surgeries.

Health care in this country has not yet recovered. Today, the surgical backlog, to cite but one issue, still numbers in the hundreds of thousands.

Of equal importance, frontline health workers, such as nurses, are suffering burn-out at an alarming rate, while hospital…

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