Susan MartinukDrastic changes are needed if we are to repair the Canadian healthcare system. Millions of Canadians waiting for medically-necessary surgeries and procedures already know that. It’s time for the rest of us to catch up and start advocating for change.

At least five million Canadians are without a family doctor. More than one million Canadians were on waitlists before the COVID-19 pandemic even started. In Ontario alone, it’s estimated that 21 million patient services (surgeries, screenings, diagnostic procedures) have been delayed by COVID.

The head of the Canadian Medical Association says healthcare’s human resource crisis is “becoming extreme;” physicians are aging, suffering from burnout, and almost half (46 percent) are considering reducing their clinical work.

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Emergency departments close because of staff shortages. Every province has lack acute care beds, and even if more beds were added, we wouldn’t have the staff or infrastructure to support them.

In March, federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos finally admitted the inevitable – that the survival of our public health system is “at risk.” In other words, Canadians need to have a serious conversation about how to fix healthcare.

But before we can move forward, we must put an end to the biggest hindrances to positive change – fearmongering by politicians, threats of Americanized healthcare and the idea that more money is the solution.

A case in point is Alberta. Two months ago, Rachel Notley, leader of the NDP Opposition, called on the provincial government to stop its “plans to Americanize public healthcare in Alberta.”

Let’s unpack this comment.

No one wants U.S.-style healthcare. For years, comparative studies on healthcare metrics in wealthy nations have ranked American healthcare at the bottom of the pile. The idea that we would choose to emulate a broken system doesn’t even make sense.

Politicians who continue to fearmonger about ‘Americanized’ healthcare are shameless and ignorant. They put politics above the healthcare needs of their constituents every time they put the freeze on conversations about innovative changes to care.

It’s time for our collective vision of healthcare to grow up and move beyond the dichotomy that claims it’s either Canadian or American. There are a host of healthcare systems around the world that are high functioning, sustainable and guarantee quality medical treatment for all.

Sweden, Australia, Norway, Germany – the list of countries with better, more successful medical systems than we do is extensive. They have hybrid systems that interact with and contribute to each other. The public systems are not bereft of cash, equipment or doctors, and the rich aren’t exclusive users of private care. The two systems work together to ensure all patients receive care when they need it.

Notley’s comments were a response to Alberta giving money to private surgical clinics to help tackle the massive surgical waitlists that are overwhelming the public system and keeping people from getting the medical procedures that they need to live productive lives.

Guess what? Provincial governments across Canada are already doing this because the healthcare system is overwhelmed and it will take years to clear wait lists. Even British Columbia’s NDP government pays private clinics to reduce waitlists.

There aren’t enough beds, surgeons, or diagnostic facilities in the public system to deal with the demand. One Albertan who needed spinal surgery received a letter from the clinic stating that there were 1,803 referrals ahead of him on the waitlist. How long do you think he will be waiting for his spinal surgery?

No government (provincial or federal) has enough money to ensure there are enough beds, high-tech diagnostic imaging machines and staff to treat Canadians under a universal healthcare system.

Gerard Lucyshyn, an economist and senior fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, has done the math – in 2021, Alberta spent 47.02 percent of its provincial revenues on healthcare. How much more does Notley expect the province to dedicate to healthcare? And what other government services should be defunded to do so?

The federal government already pays about $300 billion for healthcare annually, and, over the past two years, it has paid out another $69 billion for the COVID pandemic. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been printing money just to cover the medical bills (and buy votes) for the past three years.

Common sense dictates that governments can no longer afford to have a monopoly on providing universal healthcare to Canadians.

Drastic changes are needed; millions of Canadians waiting for medically-necessary surgeries and procedures already know that. It’s time for the rest of us to catch up and start advocating for change.

Susan Martinuk is a senior fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy and author of the recently-released book Patients at Risk: Exposing Canada’s Health-care Crisis.

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