Jane Philpott: Politicians will not move the needle on health care policy if they are punished for it in the polls. Time to look elsewhere.
The Hon. Dr. Jane Philpott is a former federal minister of health and minister of Indian services. She is dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences at Queen’s University.
My predominant emotion when the federal elections concluded was sadness. I don’t think anyone was happy with the results. In terms of the seat count, the election brought us back to where we were. It is as if we are making a collective decision that this is the best we can do for now. However, I’m afraid we have a few more years of limited and incremental change ahead of us. I hope I am wrong From a health policy perspective, I would like to be more optimistic that we will see significant actions in drug policy, reforms in public health governance, and the substantive implementation of indigenous rights to promote well-being.
If I’m honest with myself, some of my sadness was a recurrence of the pain I felt when my political career ended abruptly because I stood firm on a matter of principle. I didn’t get into politics because I needed a good job; I chose politics because I knew it could be a powerful tool to improve people’s lives. I loved being able to introduce or change laws and regulations that would promote better health. When I left politics, I feared that I could never have the same depth of impact.
I am recovering from my pain rekindled with the same remedy that cured me in 2019. I remind myself that politicians are not the only ones who can bring about major health reform and social change.
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After all, part of my frustration within politics was due to things not moving fast enough on important files; they were too difficult politically, and that was because there was not an insufficient clamor for change. An obvious illustration of this could be climate change; It has taken decades to generate public support and political will to recognize the cost of polluting our environment.
Another example is the issue of the decriminalization of drug possession. Most politicians do not have the courage to enact evidence-based changes to the law if they fear being punished for it at the polls. There is a huge role for those of us outside the corridors of power to bring about those changes. After an election that disappointed nearly everyone, we must look to other institutions in Canada for meaningful action.
For example, we can draw on the experience and creativity of universities. Now I work in this sector and it is in an ideal position to accelerate social change. Solving big problems is literally on our to-do list. We have hundreds of researchers who spend their days trying to answer the world’s most pressing questions. We come up with solutions, test them, and then go back to the drawing board for an even better answer. We create the space for many perspectives to be heard.
Our academic work also results in new tangible community services ready to scale. Health Hub is a rehabilitation program launched by Queen’s Health Sciences during the pandemic to care for people with chronic musculoskeletal disorders such as arthritis. The program, offered free of charge to those who might not otherwise be able to access health care, not only fills a gap in health care, but also provides students with clinical placements. Students work alongside faculty members to provide care, while demonstrating how physical therapists are an essential part of health systems.
It’s no wonder people at a university are trying to solve some of the same problems as people at Parliament Hill, including racism in healthcare, the affordability of healthcare systems, or the public health emergency of the crisis. of opioids. When academics identify the most effective approaches in theory, we often need political leaders to implement those solutions. For example, it is now recognized that the federal government has a role and responsibility in improving health systems. The COVID pandemic highlighted the need for revised federal public health laws and policies; we saw this reflected on party platforms during the campaign. The provinces are asking for cash infusions to cover the rising cost of providing health care. Although it may be necessary, a cash injection is insufficient and simplistic. Fixing our fragmented and inefficient healthcare systems will take more than money.
One of the best places to find answers is the front line of care, where healthcare professionals know how to get the best value for money. In the academic health sciences sector, I see enormous potential to demonstrate how health systems can improve through research and policy analysis. We have computer scientists and biomedical experts working with oncologists and surgeons to develop predictive models of cancer risk and maximize the effectiveness of cancer surgery. When translated into practice, this can dramatically alter the way care is delivered and the inherent efficiency of health systems.
Fortunately, we don’t need to wait for governments to see a transformation in healthcare. We have tools to build a more diverse healthcare workforce and the courage to speak out for policies that stand in the way of better health. It turns out that academic health sciences could be the real winners in a pandemic election aimed at identifying leaders who will do the hard work.