Health-care reform needs political support, doctors say

Canadians are asking for political leadership to help fix a broken health-care system, the head of the Canadian Medical Association says.
The Canadian Medical Association held online consultations and town halls over the last year to gather the views of Canadians on transforming the health care system. The CMA released its report Wednesday. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Canadians are asking for political leadership to help fix a broken health-care system, the head of the Canadian Medical Association said Wednesday.

Dr. Jeff Turnbull presented the results of the CMA's national dialogue on health-care transformation, which was conducted over the last year, at a news conference in Ottawa. He said the CMA heard from Canadians that they respect the health-care system and feel a deep attachment to it, but that it is failing many of them and they want to be involved in building a renewed system.

"They came to the table saying they would be engaged in a meaningful dialogue to make sure that they were responsible participants and they expected that of us as well and good, strong political leadership to make sure it happened," said Turnbull.

He noted that the CMA heard "tragic" stories but was also heartened by the care and commitment demonstrated by dialogue participants to reforming the system.

"Based on the engagement and emotions that I heard wherever I went, I believe that Canadians are ready to engage in building a new generation of health care. Our job going forward will be to make sure that our politicians and policymakers are ready as well," he said.

The CMA held six town hall meetings across the country over the last year and online consultations that Turnbull said provoked an enormous response. About 4,000 comments were posted on the CMA's website and 1,500 people attended the public meetings. The results have been summarized in a report titled Voices Into Action.

Canadians were asked to give their input on three questions:

  • What would you consider good value for health care?
  • What do you think Canadians' responsibilities are, now and in the future, in regard to their health?
  • Do you think the Canada Health Act should be broadened to include things like pharmacare and long-term care?

The majority of respondents said they are not getting good value for money, especially compared with European countries, and they based that assessment on long waiting times for the care they need, the report said.

Discussions over private versus public health care were frequent, the report said, and support for a publicly funded system was widespread. Turnbull noted, however, that some expressed openness to private sector assistance to help alleviate some of the immediate pressures on the public system.

Participants in the dialogue agreed that Canadians need to take responsibility for their own health, but they said there is a need for "healthy public policy" to help people make healthy decisions. Better health education and support for economically disadvantaged groups were among the suggestions made and some said tax incentives should be introduced to encourage healthier choices.

Canadians want more health care covered

The report also found that Canadians said they have a responsibility to demand accountability from politicians on the delivery of health care.

There was a strong consensus, the report said, on a need to expand the scope of the Canada Health Act. The CMA heard that people want it to include dental and eye care, long-term care, home care, and palliative care.

One of the overall themes reported by the CMA is that Canadians feel the health-care system is failing them and vulnerable groups including the mentally ill, children and aboriginal Canadians. Canadians feel the system is "fractured" and that people are not getting the care they need, when they need it.

"We heard a vast array of good ideas. We heard loud and clear that Canadians want their political leaders to get on with following up on these ideas and these ideas had to lead to action," said Turnbull.

He said the expiration of the health accords between the federal government and the provincial and territorial governments in 2014 can be seen as a point for transformation of the system.

"The goal must be to use the next accord to transform health care so it truly serves Canadians for future generations," he said.

The CMA appointed an advisory panel that has taken all of the information gathered through the dialogue into consideration and it will make a series of recommendations in a report to be released at the group's annual conference in two weeks.