Canada’s health-care system is irretrievably broken

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Susan MartinukDrastic changes are needed if we are to repair the Canadian health-care system. Millions of Canadians waiting for medically-necessary surgeries and procedures already know that. It’s time for the rest of us to catch up and start advocating for change.

At least five million Canadians are without a family doctor. More than one million Canadians were on waitlists before the COVID-19 pandemic even started. In Ontario alone, it’s estimated that 21 million patient services (surgeries, screenings, diagnostic procedures) have been delayed by COVID.

The head of the Canadian Medical Association says health care’s human resource crisis is “becoming extreme;” physicians are aging, suffering from burnout, and almost half (46 per cent) are considering reducing their clinical work.

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Emergency departments close because of staff shortages. Every province has lack acute care beds, and even if more beds were added, we wouldn’t have the staff or infrastructure to support them.

In March, federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos finally admitted the inevitable – that the survival of our public health system is “at risk.” In other words, Canadians need to have a serious conversation about how to fix health care.

But before we can move forward, we must put an end to the biggest hindrances to positive change – fearmongering by politicians, threats of Americanized health care and the idea that more money is the solution.

A case in point is Alberta. Two months ago, Rachel Notley, leader of the NDP Opposition, called on the provincial government to stop its “plans to Americanize public health care in Alberta.”

Let’s unpack this comment.

No one wants U.S.-style health care. For years, comparative studies on health-care metrics in wealthy nations have ranked American health care at the bottom of the pile. The idea that we would choose to emulate a broken system doesn’t even make sense.

Politicians who continue to fearmonger about ‘Americanized’ health care are shameless and ignorant. They put politics above the health-care needs of their constituents every time they put the freeze on conversations about innovative changes to care.

It’s time for our collective vision of health care to grow up and move beyond the dichotomy that claims it’s either Canadian or American. There are a host of health-care systems around the world that are high functioning, sustainable and guarantee quality medical treatment for all.

Sweden, Australia, Norway, Germany – the list of countries with better, more successful medical systems than we do is extensive. They have hybrid systems that interact with and contribute to each other. The public systems are not bereft of cash, equipment or doctors, and the rich aren’t exclusive users of private care. The two systems work together to ensure all patients receive care when they need it.

Notley’s comments were a response to Alberta giving money to private surgical clinics to help tackle the massive surgical waitlists that are overwhelming the public system and keeping people from getting the medical procedures that they need to live productive lives.

Guess what? Provincial governments across Canada are already doing this because the health-care system is overwhelmed and it will take years to clear wait lists. Even British Columbia’s NDP government pays private clinics to reduce waitlists.

There aren’t enough beds, surgeons, or diagnostic facilities in the public system to deal with the demand. One Albertan who needed spinal surgery received a letter from the clinic stating that there were 1,803 referrals ahead of him on the waitlist. How long do you think he will be waiting for his spinal surgery?

No government (provincial or federal) has enough money to ensure there are enough beds, high-tech diagnostic imaging machines and staff to treat Canadians under a universal health-care system.

Gerard Lucyshyn, an economist and senior fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, has done the math – in 2021, Alberta spent 47.02 per cent of its provincial revenues on health care. How much more does Notley expect the province to dedicate to health care? And what other government services should be defunded to do so?

The federal government already pays about $300 billion for health care annually, and, over the past two years, it has paid out another $69 billion for the COVID pandemic. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been printing money just to cover the medical bills (and buy votes) for the past three years.

Common sense dictates that governments can no longer afford to have a monopoly on providing universal health care to Canadians.

Drastic changes are needed; millions of Canadians waiting for medically-necessary surgeries and procedures already know that. It’s time for the rest of us to catch up and start advocating for change.

Susan Martinuk is a senior fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy and author of the recently-released book Patients at Risk: Exposing Canada’s Health-care Crisis.

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By Susan Martinuk

Susan Martinuk is a Vancouver-based research consultant, and former researcher in reproductive technologies and infertility. In 1990, she and her colleagues achieved a world-first medical breakthrough—the first to visualize and record the process of human ovulation. From 2010 to 2012, Susan carried out the first-ever study on access to, and utilization of, PET (positron emission tomography) imaging in cancer care in Canada.

1 comment

  1. Dear Susan,
    I totally agree that Health care is in crisis. My brother-in-law recently sat in a Toronto Hospital for six hours in Emergency with a bad case of pneumonia.
    The hospitals are seriously short-staffed and are finding it hard to cope.
    This suggestion may be totally off the wall, but I recently watched an old tribute show honouring Frank Sinatra who had raised $1 billion for charity.
    There are many wealthy Canadian superstars residing in the U.S. and what about bringing this health care problem to some of them to raise funds, to contribute to some improvements? Maybe this would wake up some government officials to do something to improve things.
    Just a thought. Thank you

    [email protected]

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