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Ottawa has 'abandoned health': Canadian Medical Association Journal

An editorial appearing today in the Canadian Medical Association Journal has attacked the Harper Conservative government for its lack of leadership on health issues.

While pointing out that earlier federal governments, as well as provincial governments, bear their share of blame, the editorial accuses the Conservatives of numerous failures. Some selections:

Stephen Harper has made no secret of his Conservative government's position on health care -- health is a provincial matter. Although this position has no basis in fact or law, many believe it, especially when provincial and territorial leaders repeat and reinforce it.

...In recent years, federal leaders have failed to enforce existing laws and set priorities for the country's health. The 2003-04 health accords provided $41 billion in federal health transfers without implementing mechanisms that could hold provinces accountable for achieving lasting health care transformation or improvement in overall health outcomes.

As more and more Canadians go without necessary medications because of high costs, there is no movement toward establishing a national pharmacare program. Similarly, a decade after a federal commitment to have 50% of Canadians with electronic medical records by 2010, we are nowhere near meeting this goal.

...Lack of federal stewardship is impairing Canada's ability to protect public health. Recent threats such as listeriosis and pandemic influenza have highlighted vulnerabilities created in large part by failure to empower the Public Health Agency of Canada with adequate independence and resources.

Meanwhile, some public health successes are having federal support withdrawn, such as evidence-based programs for reducing harm from drug addiction in prisons and inner-city neighbourhoods.

...The Harper Conservatives seem determined to focus on advancing a law-and-order agenda, spending money on prisons and fighter jets as well as tax cuts while ignoring health and health care. Regrettably, other political parties have offered few if any substantive policy alternatives.

The editorial did see an opportunity for improvement:

The renegotiation of the 2003-04 health accords ending in 2014 provides an ideal leadership opportunity. Canadians and stakeholders expect our federal government to fulfil its responsibilities under current laws.

Achieving this will mean ensuring sufficient resources for our national health institutions and systems; modernizing legislation to protect the public from unsafe food and drugs; ensuring evidence-based health care; defining, measuring, and publicly reporting nationwide quality of care indicators; developing a national pharmacare and home care strategy; and providing incentives for stakeholders to adopt national programs and standards.

Crawford Kilian is a contributing editor of The Tyee.

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