Throne speech indicates waiting game may soon be over

Health care industry experts were divided in their assessmentsof Tuesday’s speech from the throne.

Reducing wait-times for critical health care services was one ofthe key issues outlined in Governor-General, Michaelle Jean’sspeech. Jean said that government will “engage” a nationalwait-times guarantee for services that are deemed medicallynecessary.

“This guarantee will make sure that all Canadians receiveessential medical treatment within clinically acceptable waitingtimes,” she said.

Canadian Medical Association (CMA) president Dr. RuthCollins-Nakai, said the CMA is encouraged by some of the messagesthey heard in the speech, particularly the focus on wait- timesguarantees.

“From the CMA perspective and based on polling we’ve conducted,wait-time guarantees is still the number one issue for Canadians,and they want action on it,” said Collins-Nakai. “So we’re pleasedto see the government is sticking to its guns on thiscommitment.”

However, Collins-Nakai said the provinces each define what theyperceive to be medically necessary. “The term medically necessaryservices are shorthand for what the provinces will cover.”

While the CMA may be encouraged, the Canadian Union of PublicEmployees (CUPE) is apprehensive.

National president of CUPE Paul Moist said he was more concernedabout what the speech didn’t say about wait-times.

“We had hoped to see something about the Canada Health Act withrespect to enforcement of the Act, and that we would work on waittimes under the realm of the Act,” Moist said. “Half of that was inthere, and the other half wasn’t.”

While the speech did mention the Canada Health Act, it was onlyin reference to the government wanting to support innovativeapproaches to health care, according to Moist.

“And the innovation thing doesn’t do it for us,” he said.”Another issue the speech didn’t mention with respect towait-times, was that of human resources in health care.”

Development and retention of health care professionals is asmuch a part of the solution to wait-times as lack of space andcapacity in operating theatres in the public sector is, hesaid.

It was a sentiment echoed by Collins-Nakai who said the CMA doesnot feel wait-times will be able to be reduced as long as there isa shortage of personnel within health care.

“We’re pushing (the government) very hard to look at what arecalled health human resources in the whole health sector,” shesaid. “Wait times are a surrogate of what ails the health caresystem.”

Fixing wait-times means fixing not just how long patients wait,but it means making fixes to the system in order to make itsustainable long-term, she said.

Moist said CUPE has requested a direct meeting with the ministerof health, Tony Clement.

“There’s some indication that through the Canadian LabourCongress, we’re going to be sitting down with Prime Minister Harperand senior cabinet minister’s first,” Moist said. “I would expecthealth care to be the number one issue on our plate.”

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