An open letter to the Prime Minister and Canada’s Premiers: ​It’s time to build our health care system for the next 150 years

2017 is a year like no other. As we celebrate our country’s anniversary, and think about our history and achievements over the past 150 years, we can’t help but be filled with pride. We also acknowledge some of our failings, particularly when it comes to our relationship with, and service to, Indigenous communities.

Our health care system is a defining part of the Canadian story. But as our system faces unprecedented pressures — the aging of our population, for example – it is essential that we take the opportunity of our sesquicentennial to discuss potential solutions for the future.

Since the last meeting of the Council of the Federation, much of the discussion on health and health care has been focused on dollars and percentages. Understandably, provinces and territories are struggling to keep up with the rising costs of the current system, and the federal government cannot be an unlimited source of funding. The end product of these discussions was a patchwork of bilateral health financing deals, with one province holding out, and no national plan. Since then, there’s been limited action — no signatures on the dotted line and no significant debate on the future state of our health care system.

The state of our system is worrisome, even frightening. Every day, we hear stories on how we’ve failed our most vulnerable, including our seniors, Indigenous people, those with addiction disorders. With our aging population, we need to plan now to provide our seniors with the care they need. This means, for example, investing in residential care infrastructure and recognizing the role of caregivers, essential and parts of our support system. Each day, our hospitals are filled to the brim with patients — many in hallways and waiting rooms — who deserve better and more respectful treatment. Each day, we — physicians, nurses and all those working on the front line — do our best to fulfill our duty and offer the best care we can despite the failings of our system.

And so if the focus is to remain on money and percentages, then let’s talk about how we should be spending our health care dollars differently. Why is someone waiting in a hospital bed at a cost of $842 per day when we could be providing long-term care beds for $126 per day or home care for $42 per day?

We all know and recognize that our system is not sustainable and that much has to change. We need the leaders of our great country to guide the way — to unite with the professionals, the universities, the health care managers and the people to work together to design and manage a national vision for our health care system. A national strategy on seniors care could very well be the first step in that right direction for transforming our most cherished social program. Canada’s physicians are ready to play our part.

Dr. Granger Avery, President


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