Ottawa gets low marks from doctors’ group on commitment to health care

OTTAWA – A national doctor’s association has given the Conservative government low marks on health care and is calling on Ottawa to show leadership in setting national standards as it confronts an aging population.

The report from the College of Family Physicians of Canada rates the government’s efforts on several fronts and finds them lacking. Among the areas of biggest concern are the absence of a national home-care program, primary care supports and an immunization strategy.

“We thought it was an important report to do as we look at an election in 2015,” Marie-Dominique Beaulieu, the college’s executive director, said in an interview.

“We’ll look at it and update it in a year’s time and see if we have any changes; hopefully we’ll see changes in a positive direction.”

The college used a colour-code scheme to rate the government, with green denoting strong leadership, yellow suggesting a need for more work and red indicating a complete lack of involvement and a need for immediate attention.

The majority of indicators are yellow, several are red but there’s only a solitary green — the government’s national homelessness plan.

At least two of the red marks, Beaulieu said, could have significant ramifications if not addressed — the lack of countrywide immunization standards and the absence of a national poverty plan.

“They’re very important and very concerning,” she said.

The report urges the government to establish a plan to combat poverty, noting that “economic well-being is a key contributor to health outcomes, and a healthy workforce is the foundation of a healthy economy.”

Immunization, it adds, “is a well-established preventative health measure that is easy to implement, but in Canada the coverage and schedules for routine immunizations are not standard across the provinces and territories.”

Another red mark is the absence of a health-care program for children and youth.

“There is currently no federal strategy on child and youth health issues such as mental health and obesity,” the report states.

“Canada’s investment in early childhood development is one of the lowest among OECD countries.”

The report also reiterates a long-standing call for a national home-care program. Beaulieu said that’s been a going concern for almost two decades.

“We need to realize that we have changing demographics and there are also changes in how care is being delivered … Canadians are getting older and that is why having a national home-care strategy is so important.”

The government received middling marks on everything from efforts to ensure everyone has a family doctor to appropriate funding for health-care research.

“Funding is decreasing,” the study found, urging stable cash infusions for such research.

Beaulieu said government officials were “receptive” when the college discussed the report with them before publication.

“We had an opportunity to discuss the report with all the federal parties and we did meet with staff of the Conservative government,” she said.

“We were careful in pitching this not as scolding anybody, but really wanting to engage the federal government in this kind of discussion with us being part of the solution. They were very receptive.”

Health Minister Rona Ambrose’s office said the government was “committed to a strong, publicly funded health-care system, guided by the Canada Health Act.”

“We are focused on working with the provinces and territories on developing a health innovation framework to ensure our heath system is sustainable and delivering the care that Canadians need,” the statement said.

During question period Wednesday, NDP health critic Libby Davies — armed with the report — assailed the government’s failing grade on the health-care file, particularly on primary care, home care and funding.

“Our government has provided stable, predictable funding to the provinces that will reach a record $40 billion by the end of the decade,” countered Eve Adams, Ambrose’s parliamentary secretary.

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