Systemic problems and staffing issues are overwhelming health care delivery, and people are dying from a lack of proper care. Daily news reports now relate the most egregious dysfunctions as patients sought help and instead found themselves in a chaotic system that can no longer guarantee basic medical care.
Patients, doctors, nurses and health-care workers all recognize that universal health care is failing. Frankly, the only people who don’t see a system in crisis are the tone-deaf politicians who control Canadian health care and how it is delivered.
How bad is it?
In British Columbia, one million people cannot find a family doctor. A desperate woman took out an ad in the Victoria newspaper offering to pay “any reasonable fee” to a physician who would “renew my 82-year-old husband’s prescriptions.” Six months after his family doctor retired, he could no longer renew his prescriptions and no family doctor could be found.
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In Alberta, a man had to stay by his dying father’s side for three days in a High River Emergency Department because there were no beds. His father was in the final stages of esophageal cancer and required constant monitoring to keep his airway clear, but the hospital and its staff were overwhelmed. He told a reporter, “We’re here for three days, and there’s no bed available, and there’s no one to watch him, there’s no one to be there … I’m by myself.”
How tone deaf are our politicians to these events?
BC Premier John Horgan made a joke about the advertisement for a doctor placed by the desperate woman, stating that perhaps he should follow suit and “take out an ad in the paper” to get the federal government’s attention to fix health care. Most notably, he didn’t take any responsibility for the acute physician shortage that has plagued BC health care for several years under his leadership or make any offer of assistance to the couple in need.
An equally tone-deaf Alberta government thumbs its nose at frustrated patients and overworked health-care workers by giving the province’s chief medical officer, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, a massive $228,000 bonus on top of her $363,000 annual salary.
To put that into proper perspective, $228,000 could have provided 5,000 hours of nursing care at a mid-range cost of $45 per hour. It could also have covered 19 joint replacement surgeries at the going rate of $12,000 per operation. Meanwhile, Alberta’s physicians have been without a contract since 2020, and the provinces’ nurses were asked to take a three per cent wage cut during pandemic negotiations.
On the federal front, irony reigns supreme: Jagmeet Singh, leader of the NDP and supposed cheerleader for universal health care, may be the most tone-deaf politician of all. Even as daily news stories reveal a system in need of reorganization and change, he has demanded that the Liberal government set aside $5.3 billion to clean children’s teeth every six months (even though Stats Canada says two-thirds of Canadians already have private dental insurance).
His demand doesn’t necessarily mean that Singh is particularly concerned about helping children, improving health care or doing what is best for Canadians. After all, the federal government doesn’t have the money to implement a dental plan, and it makes no sense to add another layer of government bureaucracy to an already failed health-care bureaucracy. Instead, he is putting politics first by forcing Trudeau to toss another $5.3 billion on the health-care dumpster fire to live up to their Faustian bargain whereby the NDP would prop up the minority Liberal government in exchange for legislative favours such as dental care.
Emergency departments are closing, we don’t have enough hospital beds, staffing shortages are rampant, health-care workers are burnt out, and patients are dying from a lack of basic medical care. Yet political expediency once again trumps the realities of fixing health care.
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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