VICTORIA – British Columbia’s health minister says he is “delighted” that Canada’s prime ministers are meeting with the prime minister early next month to discuss a possible deal to increase federal funding for health.
Adrian Dix says prime ministers had long been calling for a meeting with Justin Trudeau while calling on Ottawa to increase its contributions through Canada Health Transfer.
Prime ministers have demanded that the federal government increase its share of healthcare spending from 22% to 35%, with no strings attached, while Ottawa has insisted that the funds must come with accountability measures.
Asked if BC is open to steps to ensure funds are used to directly improve care, Dix told reporters that BC is “passing the test” by undertaking “massive” reforms in primary care.
Dix says a “major impediment” was overcome simply by agreeing to sit down at the February 7 talks in Ottawa, as the prime ministers had been asking to meet for two years.
The prime minister said on Wednesday that no agreements will be signed at the meeting, and that it will rather be about “starting the very direct hard work of the bilateral agreements that will occur with each province.”
While the provinces and territories are responsible for the provision of healthcare, Ottawa provides a transfer to cover some of the costs. In 2022-23, that transfer totaled $45 billion, an increase of more than 40 percent over the past eight years.
The current funding formula ensures that Canada’s annual health transfer will increase by at least three per cent a year, and more if Canada’s economic growth exceeds that amount. It increased 4.8 percent between 2021-22 and 2022-23, and is currently set to rise 9 percent, to $49 billion, next year.
Estimates suggest that raising federal funds to 35 per cent of health spending in 2022-23, as the prime ministers want, would require close to $30bn in additional transfers, though Trudeau has never committed to reaching that target.
Dix told a news conference that required “massive and transformative actions” are taking place in BC’s healthcare system, but the province needs the help of the federal government to make the changes sustainable in the long term.
His comments came Friday after announcing $30 million to support measures to improve health services across North Vancouver Island.
The funds will be used to support improved staff hiring and retention incentives, such as increases in travel wages and improved accommodations for healthcare workers who travel to different communities throughout the region, it says.
The province is also launching mobile computed tomography or CT diagnostic services, it says, reducing travel time for patients across the north island.
Island Health is establishing daily shuttle services between the Port Hardy and Port McNeill hospitals, as well as shuttle services to Campbell River and Comox Valley.
Dix says the health authority is also adding new 24-hour mental health and substance use services, including additional beds for assessment and sobriety centers.
Island Health President Kathy MacNeil says people need to know when services are available and when they are not. To increase certainty and avoid unexpected closures as the new measures are implemented, she says the Port Hardy and Cormorant Island emergency departments will be closed overnight.
For now, emergency department services will be available from 7 am to 5 pm daily in Port Hardy and from 8 am to 7 pm on Cormorant Island.
Dix and MacNeil say regular hours will be restored as soon as possible.
The department in Port McNeill will remain open 24 hours.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on January 27, 2023.
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