Elections: Time for Politicians to Give Health a Pass?

This week, White Coat, Black Art presents its obligatory election show. Obligatory because everyone says health is important yet no one is taking it seriously. Health issues always land near the top of the list of priorities of Canadians. Balderdash! The only time health is important to most of us is when we're strapped to a gurney with an IV in our veins and some purple liquid about which we know nothing is running through the plastic tubing.

Which is why I think health care is way too important to leave to politicians. They are focused on winning the immediate election and not on reforming our system. Here is the big issue that no one will talk about this campaign:

Who does what? This is not a riddle...it's what I and others see as the big issue of the next 10-15 years. The population (especially those in their senior years) is growing. People are living longer, but they aren't necessarily living better. As people age, they acquire more and more diseases that require a seemingly endless array of ever more complex and expensive treatments.

Think increasing the number of MDs will solve the problem, as do most political parties? Forget it! We will never be able to afford to teach, import, and recruit enough MDs to meet everyone's needs. If we did, then we'd have provincial deficits in the tens of billions.

What we need desperately is to train and recruit what are known as physician extenders...nurse practitioners and physician assistants who can take the easy-to-treat patients, and pass off more complex patients to family physicians, who in turn pass on the most complex and hard-to-treat patients to specialists. And we need to coordinate all three so that they aren't competing with one another but instead complement each other.

That's the kind of talk we need sorely in this election. Not throwing money for bandaids like a few extra MDs at a problem that is not going away.

Kim Campbell once said infamously that elections are not the time to discuss serious issues. She paid dearly for that bit of flippancy, but I'm afraid she's right, especially when it comes to health. I think we need to create a permanent health administration to set up and plan and run the system with as little interference from politicians as possible. I'm not calling for a dictatorship or to make it impossible for people like you and me to have a voice. What I am saying is that we can't trust politicians who function in the here and now to have a vested interest in planning for things they won't get re-elected for.

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