In the midst of what many are calling a national health-care crisis, provincial and territorial health ministers began a two-day series of meetings in Charlottetown Wednesday.
Four groups representing doctors and nurses in Canada said in a joint statement Tuesday that the health ministers should leave the conference “with a clear commitment to urgent action.”
The statement said Canadians facing overcrowded emergency rooms and struggling to access care “are losing hope in their health care system.”
“It really is a numbers game,” Dr. Kathleen Ross, president of the Canadian Medical Association, said during an interview Wednesday. “We simply don’t have enough people working in our health-care system.”
Representatives from the association spent time this week touring one of P.E.I.’s new collaborative care clinics where doctors and other medical professionals work as part of an integrated health-care team.
On the Island these structures are called medical homes, and the CMA said they’re something all Canadians should be able to access.
“We call them primary-care networks inside of British Columbia — all of these pockets of excellence — but we don’t have universal access,” said Ross.
Nurses, meanwhile, are using their chance to talk to the ministers to warn against further privatization in health, specifically the use of expensive private-agency nurses to fill shifts when positions are vacant or casual workers can’t be found.
“[Spending] public dollars for health care to go into private agencies is losing a huge chunk of money that we need to put into investing into our own, publicly delivered health-care system,” said Barbara Brookins, president of the P.E.I. Nurses Union, which represents more than 1,300 RNs and nurse practitioners.
Right now we have a large number of agency nurses and they’re being compensated completely differently than our members, and treated differently. Obviously there is some animosity.— Barbara Brookins
The union says almost a third of nursing positions in P.E.I. are vacant at the moment. Until this year, Brookins said, the use of agency nurses on the Island was uncommon.
“Right now we have a large number of agency nurses and they’re being compensated completely differently than our members, and treated differently,” Brookins said. “Obviously there is some animosity that happens.”
The conference host, P.E.I. Health Minister Mark McLane, said privatization was not discussed during Wednesday’s meetings.
He said the federal government is “very strong” in its interpretation of the Canadian Health Act, adding: “In Prince Edward Island, we’re very proud that we intend to follow that act.”
McLane said Canada has to train more health-care workers or import them from abroad — rather than have provinces try to outbid each other for existing workers.
“I know with my Atlantic counterparts, we talk about it on a regular basis,” the health minister said. “I use the term ‘net gain.’ What can we do as a group for net gains in human resources?”
There are calls for Ottawa and the provinces to ratify agreements reached earlier this year for extra health-care funding — something B.C. announced Tuesday.
The suggestion is that those agreements will point toward health-care solutions, and the billions in extra funding will help pay for them.
The federal health minister, Mark Holland, arrived Tuesday and is set to take part in Thursday’s meetings.