It has been a revealing week for Canadian healthcare and what we have witnessed is not good.
In Fredericton, NB, a senior passed away while waiting for care at a hospital emergency department. A witness noted that the man was “clearly in discomfort,” yet it wasn’t enough to gain the attention of healthcare workers. He eventually slumped over and died from a heart attack. Premier Blaine Higgs responded to the resultant public outcry by firing both his Health Minister and the CEO of the health authority that oversees the hospital.
Things were no better in Ontario, where a 76-year-old cyclist with a broken leg was left languishing on a stretcher in the hallway of a small, local hospital for four days. The problem? He needed surgery at the London Health Sciences Centre, and it did not have any available beds.
Meanwhile, in Victoria, B.C., our country’s 13 premiers were meeting to discuss healthcare, but talks never went beyond the usual squabble over money.
The Premiers wanted the federal health transfer payments increased from 22 percent of healthcare costs to 35 percent. The federal government responded with a blatant “no” and said the province’s monetary calculations failed to consider the additional $2.85 billion to cover surgical backlogs and the roughly $70 billion allotted to healthcare over the past two years to battle the pandemic.
Finally, the legal system in B.C. weighed in on healthcare innovation by turning down a legal appeal to allow individuals the right to use their own money to buy insurance that would cover medical care outside of the government system. (Canada is the only country in the world to rely exclusively on a public healthcare system.)
Both the B.C. Supreme Court and the B.C. Court of Appeal have now ruled against Dr. Brian Day and his attempts to modernize healthcare delivery in Canada.
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The legal decision allowed that the rights of some patients may be violated by waitlists that deny their access to timely healthcare, but it is more important that the government monopoly on healthcare be sustained so it can ensure the equitable provision of healthcare and prevent the creation of a two-tier system.
The families of patients daily denied care (as in the situations above) are likely unimpressed by the Court’s ideological attachment to the notion of equal access and its insistence that the system remain unchanged.
Based on all of the above, the logical question becomes – “What’s the plan?“
What are we going to do? Fire a Health Minister every time someone dies?
After all, research shows at least 11,581 patients across Canada died in 2020-2021 while waiting for surgeries, diagnostic scans and specialist care. Another five million Canadians do not have a family doctor. There are over one million Canadians on waitlists for treatment.
After two years of pandemic spending, federal and provincial coffers are empty. Research from the Frontier Centre for Public Policy shows that eight out of 10 provinces spend at least 40 percent of all revenues on healthcare; for New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, the two outliers, the numbers are greater than 30 percent. One analyst believes healthcare could take as much as 80 percent of provincial budgets by 2030.
Every extra dollar assigned to healthcare has serious implications for every other social expenditure, including education. How much more are we willing to allot to healthcare?
It’s difficult to expect the court system to consider the financial ramifications of its decisions since it functions within a strictly legal context. However, we do expect the courts to examine the evidence and rule with consistency when upholding (or claiming to uphold) charter principles. Yet, the B.C. Court of Appeal has failed to do so.
Canadian courts ruled in favour of the few over the many when they agreed to an individual’s right to what is now called Medical Assistance in Dying. In a legal system so obsessed with rights and equality, and with laws that have been changed to allow individuals to choose death over pain, one would think that the courts would rule that an individual has the right to timely treatment that relieves pain.
Canadians are at a crossroads; it’s time to stop talking about money for healthcare and start talking about changing healthcare.
Susan Martinuk is a Senior Fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy and the author of Patients at Risk: Exposing Canada’s Health-Care Crisis.
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