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How soon is now? – Premiers, Feds Must Act Now to Improve Health Care for All Generations of Canadians

MONCTON, NB, Aug. 9 – Though health care is not front and centre on the Council of Federation agenda this week, health care experts gathered together at a conference yesterday to urge Premiers to stop the privatization rhetoric and focus instead on actually improving health care for all Canadians.

The conference, How soon is now, Health care for every generation, was organized by the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions and attracted more than 100 national and provincial health care leaders. “We wanted to remind the Premiers that public health care is a priority for Canadians that cannot be ignored. A clear message today was that our country’s health care system requires the support of all governments and must be expanded to ensure better care for all Canadians, including a pan-Canadian health human resources strategy, improved Aboriginal health care, increased home care services and the implementation of a national pharmaceutical program,” said Linda Silas, President of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions.

“We know that a strong health care system is close to the hearts of our Premiers, but empathy is not enough. Soon is not enough. We need action now on the solutions presented by health care experts to ensure that all Canadians, all generations, have equal access to affordable health care,” continued Silas.

These remarks reinforce those made by conference speakers, such National Chief Phil Fontaine with the Assembly of First Nations. National Chief Fontaine delivered a keynote address highlighting the importance of and opportunity for collaboration between First Nations, health care professionals and government leaders to reduce the inequities faced by Aboriginal peoples.

“There are gaps in the system… disparities between the care people receive in different parts of the country,” said National Chief Fontaine. “An ongoing relationship with all levels of government must be established if the gap in health care is to be closed. The Assembly of First Nations wants to work in cooperation with other organizations, such as nurses, and governments on health care. It’s too big an issue to be dealt with alone.”

Later in the morning, both Professor Ted Schrecker at the University of Ottawa and Dr. Bob Gardner, Director of Public Policy with the Wellesley Institute, addressed the health disparities present in our country’s population and presented tangible solutions for improving the social determinants of health. During the afternoon Access to Care panel, delegates heard from Dr. Steve Morgan, with the University of British Columbia, about the need for a national pharmaceutical program; from Dr. John Gillis, with the Canadian Doctors for Medicare, and Dr. Judith Shamian, President and CEO of the Victorian Order of Nurses, who spoke about ensuring the continuity of care beyond the hospital settings.

“Canada’s pharmaceutical programs are poised for major change,” said Dr. Steve Morgan. “Creativity and political will to champion broad public interest will be necessary to operationalize a national formulary that provides Canadian with equitable and affordable access to needed medicines. The barriers for Canada are not insurmountable; making the choice to move forward on this front is just that: a choice.”

“The health care system is very fragmented regionally, but in addition to this fragmentation, there is also a disconnect between the hospital and home care settings,” said Dr. Judith Shamian. “We cannot have access to care without conversations between the sectors, without understanding and accounting for the determinants of care, or without continuity of care from the hospital into the home care setting.”

“Medicare needs our help. The evidence supports publicly-funded care: it works better, it is cheaper, and all citizens have equal access to health care,” said Dr. John Gillis. “Yes, the public system has problems, but there are workable solutions within and we must work together to implement them.”

At the conference, the CFNU also released its latest publication, Conversations with Champions of Medicare. The book, written by journalist Ann Silversides, offers an inspirational look at the past, present and future of our publicly-funded, publicly-delivered health care system and reminds us what we are risking when discussing privatization. The Medicare champions include the Honourable Monique Bégin, the Honourable Allan Blakeney, Kathleen Connors, Shirley Douglas, Tom Kent, the Honourable Roy Romanow, Dr. Hugh Scully, Evelyn Shapiro, and Sharon Sholzberg-Gray.

“These are the visionaries of our health care system,” says Linda Silas. “It is prudent for Premiers to follow their example of commitment and dedication in preserving and improving publicly-funded, publicly-delivered health care. We cannot allow health care to become a privilege of the wealthy; it must continue to be a right for all.”

The conference was attended by such leaders as Paul Moist, National President of the Canadian Union of Public Employees; Kathleen Connors, National Chair of the Canadian Health Coalition; Honourable Len Taylor, Saskatchewan’s Minister of Health; Yvon Godin and Honourable Andy Scott, New Brunswick Members of Parliament; Sandra MacDonald-Rencz, Executive Director of the Office of Nursing Policy; Presidents of the provincial nurses’ unions; as well as representatives from the Canadian Nurses Association, the Canadian Nursing Students’ Association and members of all health care professions.

Copies of Conversations with Champions of Medicare are available by contacting the Canadian Federation of Nurses Union office at 1-800-321-9821.

For further information: Linda Silas, CFNU President, (613) 859-4314 (Cell); Teresa Neuman, Acting Director of Communications/Campaigns, CFNU, (613) 292-9106 (Cell)