Next steps in new health care deal top agenda as prime ministers meet in Winnipeg

OTTAWA – The last time all of Canada’s prime ministers sat around the same table, their focus was on making Ottawa pay more to fix understaffing, hospitals, closed ERs, surgical backlogs and the shortage of health workers that threaten the viability of their health. systems

When they sit down in Winnipeg for their annual summer gathering this week, the focus will be more on how to use the new money Ottawa has promised.

After two years of provincial pleas and saber rattling for a new health care deal, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau finally put new money on the table at a meeting of prime ministers in Ottawa in February. That $46 billion deal fell well short of what the provinces had asked for, but they were left with no choice but to accept it.

Dr. Kathleen Ross, president-elect of the Canadian Medical Association, said that health must remain at the top of the agenda.

“We’re really at the top of our game right now,” Ross said in an interview.

“We have to change the way we manage and deliver healthcare in Canada.”

Medical care is expected to dominate the first day of the three-day meeting. Economic issues and affordability are also on the agenda.

Trudeau’s new healthcare deal includes an increase in annual federal healthcare transfers, which provinces use to help pay for their healthcare systems, as well as money for individual yet-to-be-negotiated deals that are tailored to each province and territory to address their needs. specific needs.

The money came with strings attached: Each province and territory has to create goals and timelines that will be used to demonstrate that the money is being used to improve access and care.

None of the provinces or territories have submitted their plans so far, and most of the new money is not expected to flow until they do.

Provinces and territories will likely compare notes before submitting their plans to the federal government, Nunavut Health Minister John Main said, but ultimately they will be unique to each jurisdiction’s challenges.

“Things are pretty fragile right now in terms of our personnel,” Main said of his territory.

“With the pandemic, it really changed the base in terms of personnel, and we also saw a worsening of some types of public health problems that we are dealing with,” including mental health and tuberculosis.

Nunavut officially signed the agreement on Thursday, as did the Northwest Territories and Yukon.

That leaves Quebec as the only reticent to officially join the pact.

Setting targets is an unenviable task for provinces, Ross said, but there are common areas the CMA would like to see them focus on.

They recommend the goal of eliminating priority procedure backlogs within three years and eliminating emergency room closures, among others. In many provinces, emergency rooms, particularly in smaller communities, have been temporarily closed due to staff shortages.

Provinces and territories have been critical of the amount of money Ottawa has put on the table.

The prime minister’s agreement will increase the federal share of health care costs from 22% to 24% next year, well below the 35% demanded by provinces and territories.

“It’s the starting point,” Main said. “It is positive to see an increase in transfers, but is it enough? In my opinion, no.”

Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos called the offer “quite generous on a number of different levels.”

Several provinces and territories are aiming to have their plan approved by the federal government by the end of the year, which means they may not receive much new funding until the new year.

Meanwhile, the federal government distributed $2 billion among provinces and territories last week to help them.

“That was in reaction to the fact that, in the last few weeks in particular, we have seen emergency departments significantly impacted by the unavailability of health human resources and delays in surgeries and diagnoses,” Duclos said at a news conference on Thursday.

Main said no province is likely to turn down one-time funds, but what they really need is long-term, stable money to be able to make long-term plans.

“We are looking for predictable funding streams so that we can plan where to direct resources and so that we have some security in terms of developing programs or bringing in additional staff capacity,” he said.

The prime ministers are expected to publicly discuss how they plan to deal with the health crisis when they wrap up their meetings on Wednesday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on July 9, 2023.


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