Hopes for health care renewal still not realized

Canada’s health care system continues to fall short of a clean bill of health, a new report says.

In February 2003, then Prime Minister Jean Chretian met with Canada’s premiers and agreed that the federal government would spend billions to upgrade the country’s quality of health care, including a guarantee for timely and equitable access and more accountability. Other ideas such as a national pharmacare program, computerized health records and increased home care services were also agreed upon.

Under the 2003 Accord on Health Care Renewal, $36 billion was injected into the health care system in 2003, with another $41 billion the following year. At the same time the Health Council of Canada was created to track the progress in healthcare delivery.

And now, at the five-year-mark, the Health Council of Canada has released its first report — and with mixed results. While there have been some successes, progress falls short of what could, and should have been achieved by this time, the report says.

“In 2003, governments promised change and a more collaborative approach to health care, but the Health Council is concerned that five years later, governments’ commitment to the spirit of the agreement may be waning,” Dr. Jeanne Besner, Chair of the Health Council of Canada said in a news release. “As we reflect on the speed and direction of health care renewal, we find the glass is at best half full.”

A glass half full

The progress report suggests there have been some successes, including:

– Major purchases of medical equipment and information technology have boosted the number of services delivered.

– Some jurisdictions have improved the way they manage waiting lists, and most provide wait time information for some procedures on public websites.

– Most Canadians have better access to health information and advice through telephone help lines.

– Some Canadians have better access to publicly insured prescription drugs, to primary health care teams, and to a range of health care services at home or in their communities.

But in other respects, the report states that progress has been slower and less comprehensive than originally envisioned. Of particular concern:

Catastrophic drug coverage and safe, appropriate prescribing. The accord promised that all Canadians would, by the end of 2006, have reasonable access to protection from financial hardship from the cost of needed drugs. The Health Council report says this has not happened. In fact, it says that the National Pharmaceuticals Strategy is “in limbo”.

Home care. The accord promised that all governments would provide short-term publicly funded home care. The result: two weeks of coverage. However, this is not adequate for what many people need. The report goes on to note that clear disparities continue in the availability and cost of home care across the country.

Aboriginal health. Any progress to date has occurred on a much smaller scale than envisioned by the 2003 accord, and by the Blueprint on Aboriginal Health agreed to by First Ministers and national Aboriginal leaders in 2005.

Likewise, the report says the country’s shortage of key health care workers continues. Nor is the country on track to provide electronic health records for 50 per cent of Canadians by the year 2010.