(Feb 9, 2007) -- 'There is an important message that Canada's provincial and territorial health ministers ought to hear when they meet this week in Toronto: More health professionals are needed to reduce hospital wait times.'
There is an important message that Canada's provincial and territorial health ministers ought to hear when they meet this week in Toronto.
Too many Canadians are waiting too long, too often for the critical services they need. Shorter wait times are essential for our individual health and for the health of Medicare itself.
Reducing wait times can stimulate broad constructive reform, while improving the way our health care system is organized, and ensuring that health care dollars are spent effectively. A return to shorter wait times will also restore high levels of public confidence and support for the system overall.
One of the principal causes of long wait times is plain for all to see. We have a shortage of health professionals in Canada.
The demand for health care services keeps increasing. But our health professional workforce is aging and static or shrinking. We simply need to train, recruit and work hard to provide and retain more health professionals.For-profit care will make things worse
A parallel for-profit health care system will not create one new health professional. In fact, it will actually drain scarce health professionals out of the public system and exacerbate the wait-time problem. To succeed, we must find solutions within the public system.
The health professionals shortage is a crisis that’s already arrived. This means there is no time to lose. Success depends on our being honest about how serious the shortage is — and doing something about it now.
The severe shortages include doctors and nurses as well as the highly-skilled health professionals who deliver life-saving diagnostic, clinical, rehabilitation, pharmacy and emergency services. To succeed, we must develop a strategy to address all of these shortages, not just doctors and nurses.
Provincial governments acting independently are only likely to make this problem worse, they often recruit health professionals at the expense of neighbouring provinces. To succeed, we must work together, on a national level.Made-in-Canada plan needed
Accrediting and integrating foreign-trained professionals is part of the solution, but it is not a magic solution. Health professional shortages are a global reality and our own lack of planning should not become an excuse to poach health professionals from other countries. To succeed, we must develop a comprehensive made-in-Canada plan.
Canada can develop an adequate supply of health professionals by taking three important steps:
- First, we must improve the work environment and job satisfaction for our current health professional workforce by making creative investments in financial and non-financial incentives and putting an end to an over-reliance on part-time and casual work.
- Second, we must make better use of the health professionals we have presently. This means moving forward more aggressively with primary care reform, moving to team based care, reassessing the scope and patterns of practice, and enabling health professionals to practice to their full potential in order to make the best use of skills.
- Third, we must plan better for future health needs. This means we must increase enrollment spaces in health professional schools and reduce high tuition costs to train more professionals where there are severe shortages.
It also means moving away from intermittent planning and quick fix solutions. We must ensure that health human resource forecasting is based on population demographics and health needs.Provincial isolation must end
In particular, it means provinces have to stop working in isolation and accept that a national approach is required. The lack of a national approach has resulted in destructive competition rather than cooperation.
Long wait times are a real problem. But real results on reducing wait times are possible once we hire more health professionals.
James ClancyNational President