Health ministers from across the country wrapped up two days of meetings in Charlottetown Thursday and their federal counterpart says he is taking five “concrete” priorities home to Ottawa as a result of it.

Federal Health Minister Mark Holland listed those items in a communique after groups representing doctors and nurses demanded the ministers leave the gathering “with a clear commitment to urgent action.”

The strategies listed in the communique were:

  • A focus on retention, by creating a nursing retention tool kit for provinces;
  • A new examination of health-care training and supply demands in Canada, with a focus on supporting Indigenous people interested in health careers;
  • A reduction in the time it takes for internationally educated health professionals to begin working in Canada, by allowing them to begin the credential process overseas. There will also be a 90-day standard for provincial professional colleges to recognize those credentials once the workers are here;
  • Progress on labour mobility to allow health workers to work anywhere in the country, starting with doctors this year and nurses in future years;
  • A new “Centre of Excellence for the Future of the Health Workforce” to improve the sharing and availability of workforce data and planning to better understand Canada’s future health-care needs. That way when there are staffing crunches, provinces can see it coming and prepare.

Holland said another priority will be digital health care, which “we’ve been talking about for a long time.” That change could come in the form of a pan-Canadian health data charter, which would give Canadians online access to their medical records.

“This charter emphasizes the importance of putting people at the centre of our health-care system, and ensuring they have access to their own health information,” Holland said.

The two-day conference came at a time when many are saying Canada’s health-care situation is in crisis. As well as the groups representing doctors and nurses, the ministers also heard from other health-care professionals and organizations from across the country.

Dr. Mike Howlett sits at a desk with Compass host Louise Martin.
Dr. Mike Howlett, the president of the Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians, says long-term care investments should be a high priority for all levels of government. (CBC)

One of the attendees was Dr. Mike Howlett, president of the Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians. 

He said to fix the growing problem of a lack of care beds, governments need to be investing in long-term care homes for seniors.

“We need better long-term care, long-term complex care for people, better functional care for the elderly. Then people who are in hospitals, that are very ill and then get treated and who are stable again, have a place to go,” Howlett told CBC News: Compass host Louise Martin.

“Because, right now, [in] any of our hospitals in the country, 10 to 25 per cent of the patients in hospital are ready to go home and can’t go home.”

A woman with grey hair wears a green leather jacket and looks off camera.
Dr. Kathleen Ross, president of the Canadian Medical Association, says Charlottetown’s Sherwood Medical Home is the type of facility many provinces should be trying to emulate with their own medical homes. (Aaron Adetuyi/CBC)

Similarly, the Canadian Medical Association shared its own list of priorities with ministers as well as ideas on how to improve health care across the country.

Association president Dr. Kathleen Ross said the goal is to increase the number of Canadians with a primary care provider to 90 per cent in five years and 95 per cent in 10 years.

“That’s a critical piece of our recommendations,” Ross told Island Morning host Mitch Cormier. “To get there we need to recruit, retain and really look at training more health-care workers.”

She also said the association would like to see more collaborative practices where teams of health-care providers — made up of pharmacists and physiotherapists as well as nurse practitioners and doctors — work together to provide patient care rather than have individual care rely on a single health-care provider.

A model of that practice she pointed to was Charlottetown’s Sherwood Medical Home, which Ross called “a model to be looked up to.

“As this expands across P.E.I., and certainly we’re hoping across the country, this is a way for us to get a wide variety of those basic health-care services delivered to our citizens.”

‘The provinces are making excuses’

Outside the health-care meeting rooms, members of the Canadian Health Coalition held a rally, calling on the country’s health ministers to halt any further privatization of health care in Canada.

Tracy Glynn is with the coalition. She pointed to legislation in New Brunswick to allow for cataract surgeries in private clinics, as well as P.E.I.’s use of private virtual care services through companies like Maple.

“The provinces are making excuses. They’re saying there’s always been private delivery of health care and what’s a little bit more? We want to see that trend reverse,” Glynn said.

“We know that more privatization just means that we’re further eroding the public health-care system.”

Members of the Canadian Health Coalition gather outside of a Charlottetown hotel holding signs asking for the end of privatized health care in Canada.
Members of the Canadian Health Coalition gathered outside a Charlottetown hotel Thursday, holding signs asking for the end of privatized health care in Canada. (Kerry Campbell/CBC)

Glynn also called for federal health transfers to the provinces to not appear as general revenue in a provincial budget. Rather, she said, Ottawa should pin conditions or requirements to those transfers to ensure the funds go directly to delivering public health care.

The coalition is also calling on the federal government to fulfil its commitment to pass legislation instituting universal pharmacare by the end of this year, saying the current draft of that bill doesn’t go far enough.


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