Health care systems across Canada need to be 'fundamentally different,' King says
P.E.I. premier met with Maritime, Ontario counterparts to discuss staff shortages
After a summer of emergency room closures and long waits for care on Prince Edward Island, Premier Dennis King says provincial governments need to work together to solve health-care staffing shortages.
The P.E.I. premier met with his counterparts from Ontario, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick in Moncton on Monday to discuss the state of health care in the country — and issues related to staffing shortages including shorter hours at hospital emergency rooms, surgery backlogs and desperate attempts to attract and retain physicians.
At the end of the day, the premiers agreed health care is at a crisis point in Canada, and said urgent action in collaboration with the federal government is needed.
They also discussed trying to speed up the accreditation process for doctors from other countries so that they can start practising in Canada sooner. But there wasn't much concrete detail on what other solutions might be tried.
Speaking to reporters after the premiers met, King said the way to move forward is to consult medical professionals to find out what needs to change.
"P.E.I. is not unique in the entire federation," he said.
"I think we've been realizing for the past year and half, essentially, that we're not able to sustain the delivery system that we have in the province.
"That's why we're bringing together all the professionals to say essentially: 'This is the roster of people we have. How can we best utilize those people in the system?'"
Provinces need to innovate, King says
King said new approaches such as the team-based care model his government has been developing are the way forward, and not traditional approaches based on every patient seeing a family doctor for every medical issue.
"We can't keep doing — and trying to pretend we can do — things that we can't do," he said.
"We have to be open to changes, and like my colleagues here, I'm open to any good suggestion that can come forward from the health professionals who work within the system…
"The delivery of health care on P.E.I. and across the country is going to be fundamentally different than it used to be, [and] I think it needs to be."
Meeting a 'positive first step': Gardam
Dr. Michael Gardam, the CEO of Health P.E.I., said he was "encouraged" by what came out of the meeting.
"I think the pandemic has really highlighted that the Canadian health care system is in real trouble," he told CBC News Network. "The fact that our politicians are talking about that now, I see that as a very positive first step."
Gardam said P.E.I. benefits from other provinces' health care systems being in better shape, because the Island depends on them for specialized care not available due to the province's low population. That includes specialties like advanced cardiac care and neurosurgery, for which Island patients must be sent to the mainland.
He said increasing compensation to certain classes of medical staff is not enough to solve the problem.
If we don't fix the issues within our system, all we're going to do is have slightly better-paid but still burned-out health care workers.- Dr. Michael Gardam
"We need to pay [front-line workers] for the work that they're doing for us. At the same time, though ... what people really want is to feel, you know, seen, heard, respected in the workplace," Gardam said.
"I worry about throwing money at health care workers. We can't stop there because if we don't fix the issues within our system, all we're going to do is have slightly better-paid but still burned-out health care workers. It's a really short-term solution.
"We need to do both."
Wary of privatization
Doug Ford's Progressive Conservative government in Ontario recently unveiled a strategy aiming to ease pressure on that province's health care system, partly by funding more surgeries at private clinics.
At the summit, there were questions on whether Maritime provinces could consider making similar changes.
- Ontario to fund more private clinic surgeries, send patients to temporary LTCs to ease health-care pressures
Gardam said he's wary of considering privatization before thinking about all other possible solutions.
"We need to think carefully, whether we're going to get the biggest bang for our buck or whether we're simply going to starve the public system in order to get better access for people in another setting," he said.
With files from Brittany Spencer