Groundwork laid for health accord negotiations

The health funding accord between Ottawa and the provincial and territorial governments that expires in 2014 was the first agenda item Friday when health ministers met for their annual meeting with their federal counterpart.

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Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq and her provincial and territorial counterparts left their annual meeting Friday saying the groundwork has been laid for future talks on the 2014 health accord.

The existing funding agreement that expires in 2014 was the first item on the agenda at the gathering in Halifax and much of the discussion focused on looking back, rather than forward.

Aglukkaq said at the closing news conference that they talked about what has worked, and what hasn't, under the current accord. She cited driving down wait times as an example of where some success has been reached but said there is "much work to be done."

Friday's discussion among the ministers did not involve putting any numbers on the table or any other concrete proposals from the provinces and territories, it was more of a general discussion on the challenges and pressures that their respective systems are facing.

"We've made it very clear that this was not about negotiating an accord today," said Aglukkaq. "It's three years from now, this was really an opportunity for us as ministers of health to talk about what we were able to accomplish since '04 with the current accord."

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Aglukkaq said the ministers agreed to continue talking about what their priorities are going to be for the next accord.

Nova Scotia's health minister, Maureen MacDonald, said the ministers have "laid the table" for a meeting of premiers in January where they will be talking about the post-2014 accord.

"There's a great deal of common ground from coast to coast to coast among the health care ministers. We all face financial pressures in making our health care systems sustainable, we also have many many different demands and we also know that transformation of our health care system is an ongoing piece of work that we're very committed to," she said.

Next step in MS clinical trial announced

While no major developments on health accord talks emerged from Friday's meeting, Aglukkaq did announce that the Canadian Institutes of Health Research is ready to accept clinical trial proposals on CCSVI and the Zamboni treatment.

The controversial procedure that some MS patients are undergoing outside of Canada involves inserting stents or balloons into veins in the neck and some report an alleviation of symptoms. The theory that blocked veins are linked to MS is controversial, as is the procedure, also known as liberation therapy.


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The federal government had been under pressure from patients and their families to fund a clinial trial and announced in June that it would support one.

Some caution that a link between blocked veins and MS is unproven and that the Zamboni procedure is risky and giving MS patients false hope. Clinical trial applications will be reviewed in the new year and a winning proposal chosen by March 2012.

Obesity, mental health and suicide prevention, and sodium reduction were also topics discussed by the ministers Friday.

Sodium reduction is proving to be a sticking point between Aglukkaq and her counterparts. She said they still agree on hitting a target of reducing average sodium consumption to 2,300 milligrams by 2016 but there isn't a consensus on how to do it.

There have been calls for mandatory regulations for industry but the Conservatives aren't interested in forcing industry to drop sodium content in processed foods and have instead taken a voluntary approach.

"We all agree that we need to move forward in meeting the targets of 2016," Aglukkaq said. "We don't alway agree in terms of how we get to the end result ..." 

Nova Scotia's health minister acknowledged there are differences in opinion on how to get sodium intake down by 2016.

"There is no question that we will continue to work together toward meeting those targets and we will have ongoing discussions about this issue," MacDonald said.

'We are showing leadership'

The federal government's role in health-care was raised by the NDP in question period Friday with Joe Comartin accusing the Conservatives of failing to enforce the current accord and ensure accountability measures are followed.

The NDP MP's accusation was rejected by Aglukkaq's parliamentary secretary, Conservative MP Colin Carrie.

"Our government is committed to the escalation of the six per cent to the provinces and territories, we're committed to a universal and publicly funded health-care system and the Canada Health Act," he said.

Carrie said his government is taking the right approach to negotiations with the provinces and territories.

"We are showing leadership," said Carrie. "We're starting two and a half years ahead of time, we're going to be discussing exactly what the provinces are finding on the ground, to work with them to put in those benchmarks, to put accountability, to put innovation in because that's what Canadians want from their government," he said.