For the past several years, the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) has been delivering two overall messages to the Standing Committee on Finance. First, we believe that Canadians’ health and their health care system must be recognized as ongoing priorities. Second, we have been making the case that economic policy, including tax policy, must be better aligned with national health policy.
This year’s brief provides specific examples of how the federal government can take action to address both of these issues. We begin with an assessment or a “check up” of the health of our health system. We then provide constructive suggestions on how to successfully implement the health agreement reached at the September 13-15, 2004 meeting of First Ministers. Finally, we draw attention to the need for continued investments in public health and healthy public policy.
Canadians remain increasingly concerned about the future state of their health care system, particularly in terms of accessing essential care. While their health status has improved over the past decades, international comparisons suggest there is considerable room for improvement. The significant announcements made over the past year related to reinvestments in health care and public health are a welcomed start to support health stakeholders in facing these challenges. The next steps must build on this progress.
INVESTING IN HEALTH CARE
Build on The First Ministers Meeting Agreement
In terms of health care, we must begin by noting that the First Ministers Meeting Agreement (FMM Agreement) was a significant achievement. It represents a positive policy framework to run with, but it must now receive the necessary fiscal, political and legislative follow-through. Legislation should be enacted that specifies the accountability framework for the Agreement. The Wait Times Reduction Fund should be subject to contribution agreements that specify how provinces and territories will use their share of this fund to reduce wait times. Critical to future success is the need for health care stakeholders to be actively involved with all facets of the Agreement, particularly in developing clinically derived wait time benchmarks.
Make Health Human Resources a Priority
At the same time, the federal government can do more to address accessibility to health care services by making a stronger commitment to increasing Canada’s health human resources capacity. Several strategies are outlined in this brief, beginning with the need to ensure that the Wait Times Reduction Fund in the FMM Agreement is used immediately to address the crisis in health human resources rather than in the last four years of the ten-year Agreement as currently projected.
One specific health human resources strategy that the federal government should pursue is providing greater support for the training of students in health care professions as part of an overall health human resources strategy. High student debt is a key health human resource issue. It is estimated that, by the time medical students enter their pre-practice postgraduate training period, many are doing so with a debt of at least $120,000 or more. This high debt load is affecting both the kind of specialty that physicians-in-training choose, and ultimately where they decide to practice. As a result, the CMA calls upon the federal government to implement a national strategy to extend the Canada Student Loans interest payment benefit to eligible health professional students pursuing postgraduate training. Such action would provide a fairer approach and would alleviate some of the problems associated with our current training system of health professionals.
ALIGNING TAX POLICY WITH HEALTH POLICY
The CMA has highlighted the need to better align tax policy with national health policy goals for some time and we believe this challenge remains a priority. One example of where tax policy and health policy can be better aligned is how the GST is currently applied to the health care sector and to physicians—something the Finance Committee has acknowledged in previous reports.
Hospitals in Canada must still pay a portion of the GST on their purchase of goods and services siphoning away millions of dollars that would otherwise be used for patient care. The federal government recognized in the 2004 budget the need to provide a full GST rebate to municipalities, one of the four sectors covered by the so-called “MUSH” formula (Municipalities, Universities, Schools and Hospitals). We call on the government to apply the same logic and provide a full GST rebate to the health care sector.
Another problem exists with how the GST is applied to independent health professionals, such as physicians, providing care to Canada’s publicly funded system. By virtue of being “tax exempt” under The Excise Act, physicians cannot claim any input tax credits to offset the GST costs they pay on their purchases of equipment, rent and utilities. Unlike other self-employed people, physicians cannot pass on any of these additional costs. This is a fundamental issue of tax fairness. It can be resolved by zero rating the GST on publicly funded health services provided by independent health providers thereby making them eligible to receive input tax credits.
INVESTING IN HEALTH
This past year saw many positive developments made to Canada’s public health system. The CMA was pleased to see the creation of the position of Minister of State, Public Health. We commend the Government of Canada for its establishment of the Public Health Agency of Canada and for its selection of Dr. David Butler-Jones as the new Chief Public Health Officer of Canada.
However, the government must continue to reinvest in public health to ensure that the country has a system that earns the trust of Canadians. Investing in public health also makes good economic policy. We have seen in recent years the incredible economic impact that public health outbreaks can have on a country’s economy.
Close the Naylor Gap in Public Health
The National Advisory Committee on SARS and Public Health (the Naylor Report) estimated that approximately $1 billion in annual funding is required to implement and sustain the public health programming that Canada requires. While representing an important reinvestment in this country’s public health system, the funding announced in the 2004 Budget falls well short of this basic requirement. Accordingly, the CMA calls on the federal government to address the $450 million “Naylor Gap” as soon as possible.
Establish National Health Goals
Guiding this country’s efforts to improve the health of Canadians should be the establishment and monitoring of national health goals. Thus, the CMA fully supports the First Ministers’ call to establish a Pan-Canadian Public Health Strategy that includes the setting of health goals that are independently monitored. These goals should also cover environmental health goals given their direct implication on Canadians’ health status.
Invest in Health Not Tobacco
Another key area for the CMA where current economic policy is not aligned with national health policy is the Canada Pension Plan’s investment in tobacco stocks. Despite the fact that tobacco continues to kill approximately 45,000 Canadians a year and costs Canadian society approximately $11 billion per year in net cost, the Canada Pension Plan continues to invest millions ($94 million) in the tobacco industry. We strongly believe that the CPP Investment Board should be prohibited from investing in the tobacco industry and that it divest its current tobacco holdings. Other major pension and investment plans have successfully executed this policy including the MD Funds held for Canada’s physicians at MD Management Ltd. a wholly-owned subsidiary of CMA. Accordingly, we call on the Standing Committee on Finance along with the Standing Committee on Health to jointly review the CPP investment policy as it relates to investments in tobacco.
The FMM Agreement and last year’s funding announcements for public health must be seen as for what they are—first steps to sustaining Canada’s health care system and its public health infrastructure. Canada’s physicians and the CMA are committed to working with governments and other health care stakeholders to ensure that these financial investments lead to positive and enduring change, and ultimately improved health for all Canadians.
The federal government move quickly to enact legislation to implement the funding and accountability provisions of the First Ministers’ Agreement. The legislation should specify that the $4.5 billion Wait Times Reduction Fund be subject to contribution agreements with the provinces and territories.
The federal government work with relevant stakeholders to extend interest free status on Canada Student Loans for all eligible health professional students pursuing postgraduate training.
As part of an effort to ensure that its tax policy is consistent with the goals of its health policy and the sustainability of Canada’s health care system, the federal government should:
- increase the GST rebate for publicly funded health care institutions and clinics to 100% ($90 million annually for hospitals)
- zero rate GST on publicly funded health services provided by independent health care providers ($75 million annually for medical services).
The Standing Committees on Finance and Health hold a joint review of the CPP policy as it relates to investments in tobacco (both current and potential) by the CPP Investment Board.
II. CMA’S ANNUAL CHECKUP
Much has happened over the past year in regards to Canada’s health and health care systems. First, we witnessed the creation of the Health Council of Canada, an institution that can play a significant role in improving the accountability of Canada’s health system. Second, we saw several announcements aimed at rebuilding Canada’s public health system including the establishment of the Public Health Agency of Canada and the subsequent appointment of Canada’s first Chief Public Health Officer. And in September, federal, provincial and territorial First Ministers reached a historic agreement on a 10-year plan to strengthen health care.
Canadians no doubt welcome these developments. They have made it known to governments and health care providers alike that access to health care has become their top public policy issue. Not surprisingly, health was the top issue during the recent federal election campaign.
For four years, the CMA has been tracking Canadians’ assessment of our health care system through our National Report Card on the Sustainability of Health Care. We are sad to report that the number of Canadians giving the nation's health care system a grade of C or F this year increased by a dramatic 9% over last year. While Canadians still give the system an overall B grade, the percentage of C and F grades was the highest since Ipsos-Reid began conducting the survey on behalf of the CMA in 2001. Moreover, our survey results found that 97% agreed that any discussion to make the system more sustainable needs to guarantee timely access for essential health services.
As our fact sheet on Canadians’ health and their health care system illustrates (see Appendix A), improving access remains a major challenge for our health care system. Canada has one of the poorest physician-to-population ratios among all OECD countries. It is therefore not surprising that in 2003, 14% of Canadians reported not having a regular family physician (25% in Quebec). A recent Statistics Canada survey on wait times found that the proportion of patients who considered their wait time unacceptable was 17% for non-emergency surgery, 21% for diagnostic tests and 29% for specialist visits. 1
Over the past year, CMA has been very active in bringing attention to the issue of access and wait times. The CMA co-sponsored a colloquium on managing wait times last April that culminated in the recently released report, The Taming of the Queue: Toward a Cure for Health Care Wait Times. 2
But what about the state of Canadians’ health itself? Certainly our health status has improved greatly over the past decades. However, while Canadians are among the healthiest people in the world, citizens in several industrialized countries are enjoying better health status. For example, disability-free life expectancy, that is quality of life years lived, for Canadian males is 18th among the 30 OECD countries and 16th for Canadian females. Canada’s rate of infant mortality—deaths during the first year of life—is among the highest in the OECD.
But we need not compare ourselves to other countries to find differences in levels of health status. Significant discrepancies in health status also exist among Canadians, be it between provinces, between regions, between communities or between neighbourhoods. For example, there remain significant inequities in health status between Aboriginal Canadians and non-Aboriginal Canadians—the incidence of hepatitis and tuberculosis among Aboriginal Canadians are five and ten times higher respectively than for other Canadians.
It has now been over a year since the Report of the National Advisory Committee on SARS and Public Health or the “Naylor Report” was released. The report has lead to some positive developments in rebuilding Canada’s public health system. It will be needed as some serious public health issues continue to face the country including:
* the spread of infectious diseases (e.g., C. difficile bacterium);
* the rise in the number of Canadians with unhealthy body weights including rising levels of obesity;
* high levels of physical inactivity;
* smoking, particularly among youth;
* relatively low rates of immunization; and
* threats to environmental health including those that threaten our clean air, and safe food and drinking water.
In summary, notwithstanding all that has transpired this year, Canadians’ health and their health care system remain high public priorities. While their health status has improved over the past decades, there is considerable room for improvement, some of which can be addressed through public health measures and better access to care. The significant announcements made over the past year related to health system and public health financing are a welcomed start to support health stakeholders in facing these challenges.
III. THE FIRST MINISTERS’ MEETING AGREEMENT
The CMA closely followed the September 13-15, 2004 First Ministers Meeting on the Future of Health Care. In fact, we worked with our health care colleagues leading up to the meeting to identify possible strategies for improving the system. 3 For instance, we recommended the development and adoption of pan-Canadian benchmarks for wait times based on clinical evidence and the creation of a special Canada Health Access Fund to support Canadians’ access to medically necessary care in other regions.
While not all of our proposals were accepted, the September First Ministers’ Meeting Agreement (herein referred to as the FMM Agreement) features many aspects that the CMA has been championing for some time and is certainly a positive achievement. In particular, we are happy to see a desire “to make timely access to quality care a reality for all Canadians.” We applaud the leadership shown by the government in this regard.
We also believe that the Agreement provides an opportunity for a new era of cooperative medicare by engaging physicians and other providers meaningfully. Contrary to belief, health care providers have not been offered many opportunities to participate at federal, provincial and territorial planning tables. We therefore welcome the opportunity to work collaboratively on identifying clinically derived wait time benchmarks. Canada’s physicians can and desire to play a significant role in this regard.
We therefore believe the FMM Agreement is a necessary first step or “a framework to go with” towards strengthening our health care system. But as we said in September following the release of the Agreement, “the real heavy lifting begins now.” Accordingly, we believe that a number of requirements are necessary to ensure this Agreement fulfills its objectives. We see these requirements as putting words to actions for realizing the full potential of the FMM Agreement.
Enact Legislation to Confirm Financial Support and Accountability Provisions
The CMA supports enacting federal legislation to confirm the budgetary allocations in the Agreement ($18 billion over 6 years and $41 billion over 10 years). This includes a 6% escalator to the Canada Health Transfer (CHT) that will provide predictable funding for provincial and territorial health care systems. This is a provision that we have been recommending for many years.
While $41 billion is a lot of money, we must remind ourselves that this amounts to little more than a 3% increase over 10 years of provincial government health expenditures based on projections of current government spending. Moreover, we estimate that the Agreement will add only .2% to Canada’s spending levels per GDP during this period. In other words, the FMM Agreement, while necessary and appreciated, will not propel Canada into the top echelon of health care spenders among the leading industrialized countries. As health care has become a dominant public policy issue, we expect to see future high level discussions in coming years on both future funding levels and on the direction of health care reform efforts.
We are also pleased to see a new Equalization agreement that will complement the FMM Agreement. The Equalization program plays a key role in ensuring that all provinces have adequate and comparable levels of health care and other social services. The issue of Equalization payments to the provinces was identified in discussions leading up to the September First Ministers Meeting over concern that increased federal transfers to health care could be offset by decreases in Equalization payments. The subsequent agreement on Equalization will therefore serve to support the FMM Agreement given that increases in health care transfers to provinces will not be offset by decreases in equalization payments while providing predictable multi-year funding.
A strong accountability framework also needs to be included in the legislation. The FMM Agreement specifies several process accountabilities such as a commitment by governments to report on access indicators and establish wait time benchmarks by December 31, 2005. The CMA believes that the Wait Times Reduction Fund should be subject to contribution agreements that specify how provinces and territories will use their share of this fund to reduce wait times.
For the Agreement to mean something commitments have to backed up—financial and/or political consequences must follow if commitments are not met.
It will be important to have an independent, third party organization assess progress in an open and transparent manner. The Health Council of Canada, identified in the FMM Agreement, could be the body to undertake an annual independent assessment, providing it receives the necessary resources to do so. The Canadian Institute for health Information also has an important role to play in ensuring comparable indicators are used to measure progress.
It is essential to involve practicing physicians throughout the implementation of the FMM Agreement, particularly in the development of clinically derived wait time benchmarks. The determination of clinically derived wait time benchmarks means just that—they must be clinically derived and must not be based on political or financial considerations. To this end, the CMA will play a leadership role in developing consensus with physicians and other expert organizations on acceptable wait-time standards and protocols based on the best available clinical evidence.
The federal government move quickly to enact legislation to implement the funding and accountability provisions of the First Ministers’ Agreement. The legislation should specify that the $4.5 billion Wait Times Reduction Fund be subject to contribution agreements with the provinces and territories.
Improve Access by Addressing Health Human Resources
The CMA is pleased to see the First Ministers acknowledge for the first time the current and worsening shortage of health human resources (HHR) in this country. However, the FMM Agreement does not adequately provide a strategy for addressing this crisis beyond the development of health human resources action plans and support for an Aboriginal Health Human Resources Initiative.
The CMA believes that the lack of immediate action on HHR is one area where the Agreement falls short. As noted in our fact sheet, Canada is currently experiencing a shortage in health human resources. Canada’s ratio of 2.1 physicians per 1,000 population remains one of the lowest among OECD countries and below the OECD average of 2.9. Initial results from the 2004 National Physician Survey—the largest census survey of physicians ever conducted in Canada—find that up to 3,800 physicians will retire in the next two years, more than double the existing rate. Furthermore, 26% of physicians intend to reduce the number of hours they work. 4 One must remember that timely access to health care services is first and foremost about the people who provide quality care and the tools and infrastructure they need to meet the growing demand for medical services in Canada.
In order for the FMM Agreement to be successful in improving access to care, governments must make health human resources a major priority beginning by ensuring that the Wait Times Reduction Fund is used immediately to address the crisis in health human resources rather than in the last four years of the ten-year Agreement as currently projected. 5 Given the current shortages in health human resources, action on HHR must begin now—not in 2010.
In addition, the CMA calls upon the federal government to play a key role in improving the availability of health human resources by developing a pan-Canadian HHR strategy that includes the involvement of health care providers. Specifically, we need a three pronged pan-Canadian HHR strategy that would address: (1) HHR planning; (2) increasing the supply of health professionals; and, (3) retention issues.
Despite the large sum of funding that governments invest in health care, they do so without having the benefit of a national long-term health human resources strategy. Canada has 14 provincial/territorial and federal health care systems in operation. Yet, our immigration policies are largely conducted on a national basis and there is a high degree of labour mobility between provinces.
Presently, there is no overall national coordinating committee to assist provinces and territories in the planning of health human resources, particularly one that includes all pertinent stakeholders including physicians and other health care professionals. We believe a National Coordinating Committee for Health Human Resources involving representation from health care professions should be established for such purposes—something both the Romanow and Senator Kirby reports recommended.
Research is required to support long-term planning in HHR. The CMA has previously proposed the creation of an arm’s length Health Institute for Human Resources (HIHuR) that would promote collaboration and the sharing of HHR research among the well-known university-based centres of excellence as well as research communities within professional associations and governments.
Canada’s HHR policy goal should be to ensure Canada is self-sufficient in the supply of physicians and other health care professionals. Several strategies are required to fulfill this goal. They include:
* Dedicating a specific fund to increase enrollment in undergraduate and postgraduate medical education (especially re-entry positions). Medical school enrollment should be increased to a minimum of 2,500 positions by 2007.
* Expanding the post-MD system to accommodate the increase in graduates for training including the several hundred international medical graduates (IMGs) in Canada who have been deemed eligible for post-MD training here. The goal should be to increase the number of first-year residency training positions to a level of 120% of the graduates produced annually by Canadian medical schools. See Appendix B for how this can be implemented. The estimated cost of adding 500 positions is $75 million over five years. In fact, this government’s election platform included a commitment to provide funding to top-up training for 1,000 foreign trained medical professionals.
* Expediting the integration of international medical graduates by funding a fast-track on-line assessment program administered by the Medical Council of Canada. It would determine the suitability and eligibility of IMGs for completion of post-MD training (estimated cost $20 million over 5 years).
* Implementing a national strategy to extend the Canada Student Loans interest payment benefit to postgraduate trainees in medicine. High student debt impacts both the kind of specialty that physicians-in-training choose, and ultimately where they decide to practice—making it a key health human resource issue (see box below). The Canadian Medical Association commends the federal government for its commitment to reduce the financial burden on students in health care professions, as announced in the FMM Agreement.
Did you know?
Becoming a full-fledged, practicing physician is an arduous and expensive endeavor. It requires a minimum of 9 years (6) of post-secondary education and training that is often financed through sizeable government and private loan debt, such as lines of credit. It is estimated that, by the time medical students enter their pre-practice postgraduate training period, many are doing so with a debt of at least $120,000 (7) or more.
The federal government work with relevant stakeholders to extend interest free status on Canada Student Loans for all eligible health professional students pursuing postgraduate training.
Retention remains a major concern for the health care workforce including physicians. We speak not only in terms of losing physicians to other countries but to other professional pursuits as well (i.e., opportunities away from the front line delivery of care). There is little point in recruiting new physicians at the front end if we lose sight of how to keep them once they are highly skilled and are in their most productive years.
Retention issues are crosscutting. Indeed, a major frustration for physicians today are the difficulties faced trying to access other types of care for their patients such as diagnostic testing, specialty care or community services. Thus, improving access to a comprehensive range of health care providers and services and reducing wait times—as previously addressed—can help.
We also believe that investments in information technologies (IT) can help improve the coordination of health care and allow physicians to spend more time with their patients to provide quality care. There is currently limited connectivity among community-based physicians, community based services, specialists, hospitals and diagnostic facilities. IT investments can improve the integration of care, improve patient safety and improve the management of wait times. They can link regional and provincial wait time management systems while supporting more comprehensive scheduling systems. Prescriptions can be sent electronically to the local pharmacist while public health warnings can be sent electronically to physicians’ offices.
We recognize that investments in IT are already occurring and systems will be put in place over the next decade. However, we believe that by accelerating IT investments today, system efficiencies and savings can be achieved sooner along with improvements to health care delivery and coordination.
The application of tax policy to the health care sector is another retention issue that greatly frustrates physicians. This issue is discussed in the next section.
Align Tax Policy With Health Policy
The CMA continues to advocate for a review of the relationship between federal tax policy and health care policy in Canada. Taxation is a powerful instrument of public policy. Good tax policy should reinforce and support good health care policy. Yet, it has been 40 years since the federal government last undertook an overarching review of Canada’s tax system (the 1962-1966 Royal Commission on Taxation -the Carter Commission).
Standard public finance theory suggests that two objectives of effective tax policy are distributive equity and correcting inefficiencies in the private sector. 8 For some time, the CMA has expressed concern over inequities in tax policy and inconsistencies between national health policy goals and tax policy.
We are aware that the committee is looking for ideas on tax changes that can lead to a more productive economy. At the same time, we recognize that the government is committed to improving Canadians’ access to health care. Ensuring this country’s tax policy is supporting our health care system is a good way to achieve both objectives.
Specifically, the CMA calls on the federal government to remove the application of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) to the health care sector. Currently, not-for-profit hospital services receive an 83% rebate on the GST they pay on goods and services, while not-for-profit health organizations receive a rebate of 50%. Health care professionals working in free-standing clinics do not qualify for any GST relief (discussed below). The estimated portion of funding paid by hospitals alone back to the federal government in the form of GST revenue is estimated to be $90 million per year. That is the equivalent of the purchase cost of almost 40 MRI machines! The CMA believes that all publicly funded health care services should be spared from having to use scarce health care resources to remit GST and should receive the full GST rebate.
Would this be setting a precedent? The answer is “no”. Prescription drugs, a significant proportion of total health care costs, have been zero-rated since 1996. Furthermore, the 2004 federal budget confirmed that municipalities would be able to recover 100% of the GST and the federal component of the harmonized sales tax (HST) immediately. As part of the “MUSH” sector (municipalities, universities, schools and hospitals), we believe the time has come to extend the full rebate to the health care sector. The federal government must stop taxing publicly funded health care.
The uneven application of the GST rebate to different health services is also impeding efforts to renew and reorient the delivery of health services. Currently, community-based services such as clinics and nursing homes receive a GST rebate of only 50% while hospitals receive a rebate of 83%. Does it make sense that a nursing home or a home care service should pay more for GST than a hospital, particularly when trying to move to a more accessible community-based system? The variability of GST rebates makes no sense for organizations such as regional health authorities that oversee a range of health services but which pay differing rates. The government acknowledged in its 2003 Budget that there was a need to review how the GST is applied to care settings outside of hospitals. We await this review. Such inconsistencies distort the efficiency of the health care sector yet are relatively simple to address. 9
Physician services, on the other hand, are deemed “tax exempt” under The Excise Act. This means that physicians cannot claim any input tax credits despite the fact they must pay GST on their purchases of equipment, rent and utilities. And unlike other self-employed individuals or small businesses, physicians cannot pass on any of these additional costs as approximately 98% of physician compensation is from government health insurance plans. To date, provincial governments have been unwilling to provide funding to reflect the additional costs associated with the GST (insisting that it is a federal matter).
Physicians are not asking for special treatment. They are looking for fairness within the tax system. If physicians, as self-employed individuals, are considered small businesses for tax purposes, then it only seems reasonable that they should have the same tax rules extended to them that apply to other small businesses (i.e., eligibility to receive input tax credits). This is a fundamental issue of tax fairness. In fact, this committee has twice before acknowledged the need to reassess the application of the GST on physician services. 10
The unfair manner in which the GST is applied to the health care sector has been an on-going source of major frustration to the physician community and remains unresolved. We believe that addressing this matter would be helpful in the country’s efforts to retain its physicians. Other self-employed health care providers that provide publicly funded services face a similar problem.
As part of an effort to ensure that its tax policy is consistent with the goals of its health policy and the sustainability of Canada’s health care system, the federal government should:
- increase the GST rebate for publicly funded health care institutions and clinics to 100% ($90 million annually for hospitals)
- zero rate GST on publicly funded health services provided by independent health care providers ($75 million annually for medical services).
IV PUBLIC HEALTH: HEALTHY PUBLIC
As previously noted, much has happened over the past year with respect to Canada’s public health system. The CMA was pleased to see the creation of the position of Minister of State, Public Health.
We commend the Government of Canada for its establishment of the Public Health Agency of Canada and for its selection of Dr. David Butler-Jones as the new Chief Public Health Officer of Canada. The 2004 Budget’s commitment to approximately $665 million for investments for public health over the next 3 years was also a welcomed announcement.
The CMA will provide its full support to work with Dr. Butler-Jones and the Public Health Agency of Canada, Ministers Bennett and Dosanjh to develop a coordinated and integrated plan to manage and improve public health in Canada. These developments certainly represent a good step towards rebuilding the country’s public health system.
Address the “Naylor Gap”
In spite of these initiatives, it remains essential to remind this government and Canadians that further attention to public health is necessary. As a member of the Canadian Coalition for Public Health in the 21st Century (CCPH21), the CMA calls on the federal government to enhance its financial commitment to the renewal of Canada’s public health system
The public health system is a vital component of a sustainable health system by reducing pressures on the health care system and providing a net benefit to society. 11
Two thirds of total deaths in Canada are due to chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, lung disease and diabetes (Type II melitus)—many of which are preventable.
Investing in public health also makes good economic policy. We have seen in recent years the incredible economic impact that public health outbreaks can have on a country’s economy. For instance, it has been estimated that the SARS outbreak cost the Canadian economy over $1.5 billion in 2003 alone with its impact still being felt. 12 As stated in the Report of the National Advisory Committee on SARS and Public Health (the Naylor Report), “we are constantly a short flight away from serious epidemics.” 13
Accordingly, we were pleased to hear the government’s Speech from the Throne state that the government will proceed with the development of the Pan-Canadian Public Health Network.
But we have to overcome several years of inattention to public health issues and the public health infrastructure—something that cannot be rectified in a year. Spending levels on public health in Canada are meager. International comparisons are difficult to find and to compare, but it appears that this is one instance where Canada could learn from its neighbour to the south with its higher level of spending on public health (see Box comparing public health spending between Canada and the United States). 14 While the role of public health was referred to in the FMM Agreement, no additional funding for public health was included.
Comparing Levels of Public Health Spending: Canada vs. the United States
Using data from CIHI and the US Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the CMA has developed the following comparative estimates of spending on public health in Canada versus the United States in 2002.
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Canada United States
1. Per capita spending on public health
services ($CDN, PPP adjusted) $138 $207
2. Share of spending on public health as
a % of public health care spending 5.5% 7.2%
3. Share of spending on public health as
a % of total health care spending 3.9% 3.3%
The United States spends approximately 50% more on public health than Canada when comparing per capita payments. The United States also spends more on public health when considering public health spending as a percentage of all publicly funded services (due in part to a proportionately smaller publicly funded sector). Conversely, Canada spends more on public health if looking at the percentage of spending on public health as a percentage of total health care spending. This is due in part to a proportionately larger privately funded sector in the United States. Since public health is predominately a public good paid by governments, we believe it is most appropriate to compare the results from the first two indicators.
The Naylor Report estimated that public health in Canada accounted for 2.6% to 3.5% of total publicly funded health expenditures in Canada and 1.8% to 2.5% of total health expenditures. While these estimates are lower than those provided above, they still support our observation that public health spending in Canada is lower than in the United States.
The Naylor report provided a blue print for action and reinvestment in the public health system for the 21st century. It estimated that approximately $1 billion in annual funding would be required to implement and sustain the public health programs that Canada requires. In its submission to the National Advisory Committee on SARS and Public Health, the CMA also identified an essential range of comprehensive public health programming and initiatives totaling an estimated $1.5 billion over 5 years. 15
The federal government has thus far committed approximately $665 million in new programming (one-time funding, over 2 years, and over 3 years), well short of Dr. Naylor’s $1 billion per year. This “Naylor Gap” of approximately $450 million per year is identified below in Table A.
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Table A: Estimating “The Naylor Gap”
Naylor Funding Recommendations
Public Health Agency of Canada Related Funding
- $300 million per year core budget of PPHB and other related federal services to be transferred to new agency
- core functions to be expanded by $200 million per year within 3-5 years
- $404 million transferred from Health Canada to Agency
- $165 million over 2 years to assist in setting up new agency, increase emergency response capacity, enhance surveillance, establish regional centres of excellence, expand laboratory capacity, strengthen international coordination and collaboration
$117.5 million per year
($200 million by Naylor minus $82.5 million per year committed by the federal government averaged out). Moreover, nothing earmarked beyond 2005-06.
3 programs of transfers at a cost of $500 million per year:
- $300 million for Public Health Partnerships Program to build capacity at local level
- $100 million for communicable disease surveillance
- $100 million to bolster national immunization strategy
- $100 million (one-time) to Canada Health Infoway to pay for real-time public health surveillance system
- $400 million over three years for:
- $300 million for national immunization strategy
- $100 million for provinces to address immediate gaps in capacity
Approximately $333 million per year
($500 million per year request by Naylor less Budget 2004 commitments of $500 million over 3 years or $167 million per year averaged out.)
Total: $1 billion per year
$404 million annually plus $665 million in new programming (one-time funding, over 2 years, or over 3 years)
Total “Naylor Gap”:
$450.5 million per year
We acknowledge that the Public Health Agency of Canada is just being created. We also recognize that Budget 2004 noted that: “The Government of Canada expects to make further investments once the new Canada Public Health Agency is operational, the Chief Public Health Officer has developed a comprehensive public health plan, and the Government has had the opportunity to evaluate the need for additional resources.” 16 Nevertheless, it is critical that reinvestment in Canada’s public health system continue as soon as possible to protect and promote the health of Canadians.
These additional investments are needed to fully implement Dr. Naylor’s recommendations. This includes operating costs for a real time communication system for front line public health providers during health emergencies. It would ensure a two-way flow of information between front-line health care providers and public health professionals at the local public health unit, the provincial public health department and the Public Health Agency of Canada. The CMA has recently submitted a proposal to Canada Health Infoway to develop a system (the Health Emergency Communication and Co-ordination Initiative) that would link Canada’s physicians with governmental authorities. The additional investments should also be used to help address the recruitment and retention of public health practitioners. 17
In contrast with other areas of health expenditures, we know very little about how public health dollars are allocated and with what results. Presently, public health expenditures are lumped together with some health system administration costs. We believe there is a need for a better tracking and public reporting of public health expenditures.
Set and Meet National Health Goals
The CMA was pleased to see support by First Ministers in the FMM Agreement to establish a Pan-Canadian Public Health Strategy and health goals that are independently monitored. We believe health goals are a key component in addressing the serious public health challenges that lie ahead. Goals stimulate action and improve system accountability. Unlike Canada, many other countries—including the United States, the UK and Australia—have set health goals for their populations at the national level.
At the CMA’s August 2004 General Council meeting, physicians agreed on health goals for physical activity, healthy body weights and obesity (see box below). These goals are already having an effect. Recently, the BC Minister of Health, Colin Hansen, accepted the challenge from the President of the British Columbia Medical Association, Dr. Jack Burak, to increase fitness levels by 10 per cent by 2010.
We also need to be more preoccupied with setting, meeting and monitoring environmental health goals. Let us look at drinking water for example. As hard as it may be for Canadians to believe, a safe supply of water is a key health concern for Canadians today just as it was at the turn of the 20th century. The polluting of our water supply—including the presence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria through the use of antibiotics in human and animal health—and a lack of adequate water treatment infrastructure systems have contributed to the problem. Above all, we as Canadians need to recognize that a large natural supply of water and other natural resources do not eliminate the need for strong environmental governance. Public health officials play an important role in this respect.
But it is pointless to set goals without any intention of meeting them. Resources will be necessary to meet the selected health goals such as the training and hiring of public health workers, as well as funding to support public advertising and marketing campaigns.
Physical Activity and Healthy Body Weight Goals for Canada
(Endorsed at CMA General Council, August 2004, Toronto)
The Canadian Medical Association urges all levels of government to commit to a comprehensive, integrated and collaborative national strategy for increasing the physical activity levels of all Canadians, with a target of a 10% increase in each province and territory by the year 2010.
The Canadian Medical Association calls on all stakeholders to develop, as an urgent priority, an action plan to address the obesity epidemic in Canada, with a goal of increasing by 15% within ten years the proportion of Canadians who are at a healthy weight.
Invest in Health Not in Tobacco
Improving health status is more than promoting healthy lifestyle behaviour. A healthy society also requires public policy that supports health (e.g. adequate income and education, proper housing, adequate nutrition, a clean and safe environment.)
Tobacco use is a good example of a health risk that has been significantly reduced with the help of public policy measures, such as higher tobacco taxes, continued restrictions on tobacco advertising and promotion, and restrictions on smoking in public places. But there remains inconsistency in Canada's public policies—in this case between the investment policies of the CPP Investment Board and Canada's health policy goals.
Canadians are very proud of their public pension plan, the Canada Pension Plan (CPP). It is a well-supported social program that has been viewed as a best practice model by several countries. Yet, despite the fact that tobacco continues to kill approximately 45,000 Canadians a year and costs Canadian society approximately $11 billion per year in net cost, (18) the Canada Pension Plan holds $94 million worth of tobacco investments.
Canada’s physicians see the toll that tobacco consumption creates. We see the physical and mental suffering that tobacco-caused diseases bring to patients and their families. Accordingly, the CMA has consistently recommended a wide range of measures to control tobacco use such as higher tobacco taxes, continued restrictions on tobacco advertising and promotion, restrictions on smoking in public places, enforcement of bans on sales to minors, reduction of the level of toxic ingredients in tobacco and the provision of smoking cessation programs. We are pleased with the efforts to date but we are by no means finished in our battle. As our fact sheet shows, there are still segments of the population, particularly among our youth, that have high rates of smoking.
The federal government in recent years has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on a tobacco reduction strategy that, when combined with efforts being taken by the provinces and municipalities, is making a difference for Canadians. However, the CPP Investment Board is investing and voting as shareholders in a pattern that is inconsistent with both public health policy, and the tobacco reduction measures being implemented across Canada. It is inconsistent and illogical for one arm of government to expend many millions of dollars of public money in
an effort to reduce tobacco use, while another arm invests many millions of dollars of money in tobacco companies and supports these companies in their drive to be profitable.
Resolution of the Canadian Medical Association General Council, August 2004:
…the government amend the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board Act so that CPP investments in the tobacco industry are prohibited and the CPP Investment Board divests itself of existing tobacco holdings.
The CMA is prepared to back up what it is prescribing—MD Management Ltd’s “MD Funds” which are managed for Canada’s physicians has followed this policy for almost ten years. Other major pension and investment plans have successfully followed this policy as well including several US State retirement and pension funds and the American Medical Association Pension Fund.
While the CMA clearly believes that the CPP Investment Board should not invest in the tobacco industry and that existing tobacco holdings should be divested, we recognize that this committee might want to look at the matter in greater context to assess its full impact. We suggest that this be done in conjunction with the Standing Committee on Health.
The Standing Committees on Finance and Health hold a joint review of the CPP policy as it relates to investments in tobacco (both current and potential) by the CPP Investment Board.
The Finance Committee’s last report on the pre-budget hearings noted that the CMA’s submission identified relatively small, one-time investments that can support the health care system. 19 This year’s submission once again puts forward strategic investments that we believe support Canada’s health policy goals and which serve to effectively implement the FMM Agreement. Our recommendations are also directed at improving the alignment of Canada’s economic policy with its health policy.
It is natural to think of an agreement as an end point. But in reality, the FMM Agreement and last year’s funding announcements for public health must be seen as for what they are—first steps to sustaining Canada’s health care system and its public health system. Canada’s physicians and the CMA are committed to working with governments and other health care stakeholders to ensure the financial investments announced over the past year lead to positive and enduring change, and ultimately improved health for all Canadians.
1 Claudia Sanmartin et al. Access to Health Care Services in Canada, 2003. Statistics Canada, 2004.
2 Canadian Medical Association. The Taming of the Queue: Toward a Cure for Health Care Wait Times. Discussion Paper. July 2004. Ottawa.
3 CMA, Better Access for Better Health, September 2004; Canadian Healthcare Association, Canadian Medical Association, Canadian Nurses Association, Canadian Pharmacists Association. “Common Vision for the Canadian Health System,” September, 2004.
4 National Physician Survey, “Initial Data Release of the 2004 Physician Survey”, October 2004.
5 A note listed under the funding schedule indicates that moneys flowing to the Wait Times Reduction Fund for health human resources ($250 million for four years) will come only during the final four years of the Agreement.
6 Average duration. Only 2/16 medical schools have a 3 (versus 4) year program.
7 This estimate is based on federal government actual and estimated costs as well as current actual national average tuition fees in undergraduate programs in medicine. Data sources: (1) Statistics Canada, The Daily, April 26, 2004, National Graduates Survey: Student Debt, p. 3. (2) Government of Canada, Canlearn. Saving for your child's education, The projected cost of your child's education. University Tuition. Typical 1996 university cost living away from home: $13,000 - $3,500 tuition = $9,500 x 24% (8 years x 3% inflation cited in reference above) = $11 780. see: http://www.canlearn.ca/financing/saving/guaranteefuture/clcos.cfm?langcanlearn=en (3) Association of Canadian Medical Colleges for tuition
8 For a further discussion of the role of taxation in public policy, refer to Musgrave, Richard A. and Peggy B. Musgrave’s Public Finance in Theory and Practices. 1973. New York: McGraw-Hill.
9 Canadian Medical Association, Tax and Health—Taking Another Look. Discussion Paper, May 2002.
10See Keeping the Balance, 1997 Report of the Standing Committee on Finance; Facing the Future: Challenges and Choices for a New Era, 1998 Report of the Standing Committee on Finance.
11 See for example, Laurie J. Goldsmith, Brian Hutchinson and Jeremiah Hurley, Economic Evaluation Across the Four Faces of Prevention: A Canadian Perspective. (Hamilton: Centre for Health Econoimcs and Policy Analysis, McMaster University), May 2004.
12 The Conference Board of Canada, “The Economic Impact of SARS”, Ottawa, May 2003.
13 Report of the National Advisory Committee on SARS and Public Health, Learning From SARS: Renewal of Public Health in Canada, October 2003.
14 Based on data from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (http://www.cms.hhs.gov/statistics/nhe/).
15 Canadian Medical Association, Answering the Wake Up Call: CMA’s Public Health Action Plan. Submission to the National Advisory Committee on SARS and Public Health, June 2003.
16Government of Canada, Department of Finance Canada, The Budget Plan 2004, p. 101. 2004.
17 See Answering the Wake-up Call: CMA’s Public Health Action Plan for other initiatives that should be funded to rebuild Canada’s public health system.
18 Adapted from estimates provided by Murray J. Kaiserman, “The Cost of Smoking in Canada, 1991”, Chronic Diseases in Canada, Vol. 18, No. 1, 1997. Available at http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/publicat/cdic-mcc/18-1/c_e.html.
19 Report of the Standing Committee on Finance, Canada: People, Places and Priorities, November 2002.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to make submissions on Bill S-4. CMA has followed the history of PIPEDA and participated in the studies of various Standing Committees, most notably and recently in 2007 to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics. CMA is pleased that amendments to PIPEDA are once again being considered.
The Canadian Medical Association represents over 80,000 physicians in Canada. Privacy is an important value to physicians and the patients to whom they serve. This is reflected in our Code of Ethics and policies, in particular, Principles for the Protection of Patients' Personal Health Information and Statement of Principles: The Sale and Use of Data on Individual Physicians' Prescribing. Physicians are also required to abide by privacy and confidentiality standards of practice. Thus, the CMA has a strong interest and valuable insights into the topic of personal information and privacy with respect to health information.
We thank the Standing Committee for the opportunity to comment on the proposed amendments to PIPEDA. Our key comments are outlined below:
CMA supports the existing legislative framework on the collection, use and disclosure of personal information produced by an individual in the course of their employment, business or profession ("work product") and suggests further amendments focus on strengthening it further.
CMA supports the current standing of work products, that work products are considered to be personal information. That is, we support the framework defining personal information as information about an identifiable individual and that there is no carved out definition or exemption for "work product".
CMA supports the position of the Office of Privacy Commissioner's following its 2007 investigation on work products, that they should not be exempted for two main reasons:
* The exemption is not needed, and it would be inconsistent with the balanced approach in the current definition of personal information. The current definition of personal information and the approach to deciding issues based on that definition have worked well. They have promoted a level of privacy protection that balances the right of privacy in personal information with the needs of organizations for the reasonable and appropriate collection, use and disclosure of personal information. ...Because the concept of "work product" is ambiguous, excluding it from the definition of personal information could have unpredictable consequences that would diminish privacy unnecessarily.
It is the CMA's position that work products should be considered personal information and given the section 7 amendments, work products should only be collected, used or disclosed without consent only if it is consistent with the purposes for which the information was produced.
In the case of physicians, a prime example of a physician's work product is prescribing information. Prescribing information is a synthesis of assessing patients - by probing into their health, familial, social and sometimes financial background - infused with medical knowledge, skill and competencies resulting in a diagnosis and treatment plan, which often includes prescribing a medication or test. Not only is the physician's prescribing information a product of physicians' work but would not exist but for a trusting physician-patient relationship wherein the patient's private and personal information are shared under circumstances of vulnerability and trust. The outcome is that this is personal information. Prescribing information is about an individual: it includes the name of the patient, the name of the prescribing physician, and the drug name, dosage, amount and frequency; giving major clues as to what the patient's health issue(s) are.
For further clarity, however, CMA recommends that physician information, and physician work products, should be specifically recognized within the legislation as personal information. To this end, we would propose that the following addition be made to the definition section under personal health information:
Section 2.(1) "personal health information", with respect to an individual, whether living or deceased, means .....(d) information that is collected or is the outcome of collecting information in the course of providing health services to the individual;
CMA supports the amendments to subsections 7(1)-(3) of the Act that any subsequent collection, use and disclosure of work products without consent must be related to the original purpose (of collection, use and disclosure). This relationship reflects the government's understanding and faithfulness to privacy principles. This is particularly critical when dealing with health information, and is even more critical in today's world given the ease of linking information through advancements in technology. In the absence of a causal relationship, personal information should not be used for system performance, commercial enterprise, data brokering, research, assessment or other purposes.
CMA recommends that the legislation should go further and allow persons who believe that protection cannot be afforded under the legislation that they have the authority to refuse to communicate the information. This is the conceptual approach taken in Quebec's Act Respecting the Protection of Personal Information in the Private Sector wherein persons have an opportunity to refuse that professional information (as defined therein) be used for commercial purposes. Physicians are constantly writing prescriptions and such information should only be used for other purposes in the interests of patients and the health care system, and not to serve commercial interests or marketing strategies. If physicians do not feel that such protection is afforded patients, then they should be permitted to refuse that such information be collected, used or disclosed. Patient privacy should be primary.
And finally, addressing work products in legislation clears up past differences of interpretation by Privacy Commissioners thus, providing certainty and clarity to the public.
That Section 2. (1) "personal health information", be amended to read as follows: "personal health information", with respect to an individual, whether living or deceased, means .....(d) information that is collected or is the outcome of collecting information in the course of providing health services to the individual;
CMA is pleased to see a section on breaches of security safeguards and recommends greater specificity.
As noted above, physicians have responsibilities as data stewards and custodians of health information. As such, CMA supports breach notification measures that would enhance and protect patient privacy. In principle, we support the proposed amendments of breach disclosures to the Privacy Commissioner, to individuals and to organizations.
However, CMA is concerned that meeting the requirements may be confusing. For example, in the health care context, it is easy to surmise that all health information is "sensitive". A far more difficult matter is determining whether the risk reaches the threshold of "significant harm" and the "probability" that the information "will be misused". The result being that incidental disclosures will be reported causing unnecessary concern and confusion in the patient population. Further specificity is recommended and we suggest something akin to Ontario's Personal Health Information Protection Act, 2004 (PHIPA).
The PHIPA is an act specifically dealing with personal health information. One of its purposes is "to establish rules for the collection, use and disclosure of personal health information about individuals that protect the confidentiality of that information and the privacy of individuals with respect to that information, while facilitating the effective provision of health care" (section 1a ). The PHIPA notification provision states that the individual shall be notified "...at the first reasonable opportunity if the information is stolen, lost or accessed by unauthorized persons", [section 12(2)]. CMA is unaware of any concerns with this approach.
The language of PIPIEDA is one of reasonable belief of real risk of significant harm to an individual. The issue is the test for required notification of patients for incidental inadvertent breaches and decreasing "notification fatigue". To illustrate the issue, if physicians were told today that patient data could be retrieved from the drums of discarded photocopiers and printers, it would be inappropriate for legislation to suggest that the entire patient population during the life of the photocopier or printer be notified. To this end, we recommend that there be acknowledgement that in some circumstances notification may not be required. The probability of misuse under PIPEDA is more ambiguous than the PHIPA test. Under PHIPA, the approach is more objective in that the data must be stolen, lost or accessed by unauthorized persons. To our knowledge, the Ontario model has been in place for almost a decade with no significant issues and thus we submit is one that works.
In other jurisdictions (eg., Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick) with health privacy legislation, there is acknowledgement of trying to balance notification and those breaches unlikely to result in harm by directly indicating when notification is not required.
CMA recommends that the statute move towards a more objective test and acknowledge that there are situations when notice is not required.
CMA supports disclosure without consent under limited circumstances, but finds the current list of disclosures overly inclusive.
Health information is considered highly sensitive information and is initially collected for the purpose of individual patient health care. It should only be disclosed with consent and in only some exceptions without consent. The PIPEDA amendments for disclosure without consent have been broadened.
Privacy, confidentiality and trust are the foundations of the patient-physician relationship. Without these fundamental values in play, open and honest communications cannot occur and patients would not receive the care they require. Both the patient and the physician have significant investment in the relationship. CMA respects the requirements to disclose information without consent under certain premises, such as required by court order or statute. However, any kind of activity requiring physicians to disclose patient's information without consent for the purposes of advancing a government or institution's goal could jeopardize the relationship.
Both the patient's consent and the physician's consent should be required if there is potential to disturb this relationship. The physician is fiduciary of the relationship and is appropriately situated to assess and determine whether disclosure will disturb the relationship.
While CMA acknowledges that certain situations may require that disclosure occur without consent (eg. purposes of investigating fraud, national security, abuse or as legally required), disclosure for less malicious activities (e.g., breaches of an agreement, insurance claims) ought to require a court order or warrant. For example, under the proposed section 7(3)(d.1) if a physician were in default of a contract with a technology company supplying electronic medical record software or app to his/her clinic, the company could disclose health information without consent for the "purposes of investigating a breach of an agreement". While we appreciate that there is a caveat that disclosure without advising the patient can only occur if there is a reasonable expectation that the disclosure would compromise the investigation, we submit that leaving the determination of what is "reasonable" to an interested party to the breach is unfair to all. Another example, if a physician is a witness to a dispute between an employer and union representing an employee for denial of long term disability by an insurance company, and has filed a witness statement which includes a medical report he/she wrote to the employer's insurance company, under the proposed section 7(3)(e.1) disclosure of health information without consent is permitted in order to assess, process or settle an insurance claim.
CMA is concerned that the disclosure amendments are overly broad and do not differentiate sufficiently between highly time sensitive or grossly malicious situations, and those where it is merely expedient or an administrative encumbrance to seek consent.
In addition, the disclosure requirements are framed in permissive (ie., may) and not mandatory language (ie., shall). This is very problematic when the "organization" is a physicians' clinic unless the physician's own consent is made as a pre-condition. CMA believes this suggestion is a progressive one in keeping with the broadened disclosure amendments. Physicians are in a relationship of trust and take seriously the protection of patient privacy and confidentiality, for which they are trained and are ethically and legally required to protect.
To place physicians in a position which might entail breaching this trust may impact the confidence of the physician and the patient in the patient-physician relationship which is required to properly formulate appropriate treatment plans; thus, negatively impacting the health of Canadians.
That disclosures of health information without consent require a warrant or subpoena or court order. Furthermore, disclosures of health information require the physician's consent that in his/her opinion the disclosure does not harm the patient-physician relationship. And, finally any broadened disclosure situations be restricted to criminal activity or that impacting national security.
Once again, CMA appreciates the opportunity to provide comment as part of the committee's study of Bill S-4. CMA is prepared to work with Parliament, governments, health professionals and the public in ensuring legislative frameworks for the collection, usage and disclosure of personal information for legitimate and reasonable purposes.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) provides this brief for consideration as part of House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security's study of Bill C-2, An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (Respect for Communities Act).1
Prior to a discussion on CMA's position regarding the substance of Bill C-2, the CMA firstly recommends that legislation pertaining to harm reduction services requires study by parliamentary committees responsible for health or social matters in addition to public safety.
Bill C-2 (formerly Bill C-65) is subsequent to the 2011 unanimous ruling of the Supreme Court of Canada2 that recognized the significant evidence on the benefits of Insite, Vancouver's supervised injection site. The Supreme Court ordered that the federal government grant the exemption for medical and scientific purposes to Insite.
The ruling left decisions regarding future applications for exemptions to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) for Insite and other potential supervised injection sites up to the discretion of the Minister of Health, with the provision that the Minister seek to strike the appropriate balance between the public health and public safety goals, and suggests the decision be based on five elements: "evidence, if any, on the impact of such a facility on crime rates, the local conditions indicating a need for such a supervised injection site, the regulatory structure in place to support the facility, the resources available to support its maintenance and expressions of community support or opposition." 3
In response, the Minister of Health proposed Bill C-2, which amends the CDSA to include section 56.1, and provides a federal regulatory framework for supervised consumption sites.*
CMA is deeply concerned with the proposed legislation, as it has the potential to create unnecessary obstacles and burdens that would ultimately deter the creation of new supervised consumption sites, even in municipalities where the need and cost-effectiveness has been well researched and the health and safety benefits clearly established. Moreover, it does not strike the appropriate balance between public health and public safety, as is the spirit and intent of the Supreme Court of Canada ruling on Insite. This will make the renewal of exemptions for Insite, the very facility which the Supreme Court ruled "saves lives", very difficult.
Public health approach to addiction
Addiction should be recognized and treated as a serious, chronic and relapsing medical condition for which there are effective treatments. The CMA has long called for a comprehensive national drug strategy that addresses addiction, and includes prevention, treatment, harm reduction and enforcement components.
Public health objectives in addressing addictions will vary depending upon the circumstances: preventing drug use in those who have not initiated use (e.g. pre-teens); avoiding use in circumstances associated with a risk of adverse outcomes (e.g. drug use and driving motor vehicle); assisting those who wish to stop using drugs (e.g. treatment, rehabilitation); and assisting those who continue to use drugs to do so in such a manner as to reduce the risk of adverse effects (e.g. needle distribution program).
Despite drug use being primarily a health and social issue, the focus of the federal National Anti-Drug Strategy is heavily skewed towards a criminal justice approach, as evidenced by a recent evaluation.4 This approach does not address the determinants of drug use, treat addictions, or reduce the harms associated with drug use. Other models are more effective in achieving the desired objectives and more investments need to be made in prevention, harm reduction and treatment, keeping individuals out of the criminal justice system.5
Drug use is a complex issue, and collaboration among health and public safety professionals, and society at large, is essential.
Harm reduction is part of health practice
Harm reduction is not restricted to services for people who use drugs; it is an approach that is adopted routinely in every health and social program. For example, seat belts, air bags and helmets are encouraged and even mandated to reduce some of the possible harmful consequences of driving or cycling - regardless of who is at fault. Many medications do not cure diseases, and are essential to prevent complications. An example is the use of insulin by people with diabetes.6 There are many programs created to reduce the harms created by alcohol, a legal substance that contributes to a significant burden of disease, disability and deaths. Examples include low risk drinking guidelines, designated driver or alternate driver programs for drinkers, graduated licenses and changes in the hours of liquor stores to reduce the use of non-beverage alcohol.7 While the risk is still present, this approach reduces harms.
Harm reduction related to psychoactive substances, "refers to policies, programmes and practices that aim primarily to reduce the adverse health, social and economic consequences of the use of legal and illegal psychoactive drugs without necessarily reducing drug consumption. Harm reduction benefits people who use drugs, their families and the community".8 They are part of a comprehensive approach which also includes abstinence-based programs.
The CMA fully supports harm reduction strategies as they aim to reduce mortality and morbidity even in the face of continued exposure to a potentially harmful substance. Addiction is an illness, and harm reduction is a clinically mandated and ethical method of care and treatment. Physicians must treat patients as a matter of good medical practice and ethical obligation, whether the patient is believed to contribute to his or her injury or not. Section 31 of CMA's Code of Ethics provides that all physicians must "recognize the responsibility of physicians to promote fair access to health care resources".9
Harm reduction information, services and interventions are respectful and non-judgmental, and have the purpose of promoting health and safety. These strategies were developed in response to critical situations and high costs to the health, social and criminal justice systems. Harm reduction approaches are evidence-based, cost effective and have a high impact on individual and community health. Such programs for injection drug users are now well established within every province and territory in Canada, in the form of needle and syringe distribution programs, methadone maintenance and the provision of sterilized equipment.10
Supervised Consumption Sites are evidence-based
Supervised consumption sites, within a comprehensive drug strategy, are another example of a harm reduction program. They were developed to reduce the harms of Injection drug use, which are an increased incidence and prevalence of infectious diseases including HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis C, and skin- and blood-borne infections; frequent drug overdoses resulting in significant morbidity and mortality; and increased hospital and emergency service utilization. Many of these health problems are not due to the drugs themselves, but to the injection method and equipment.
Supervised consumption sites are "specialized facilities that provide injection drug users with a clean, safe, unhurried environment. Sterile injection equipment is provided and health care and social service professionals are available to deal with health issues, provide counselling, and facilitate access to detoxification and treatment programs. Supervision is provided by health professionals trained in low-risk injection techniques and overdose intervention."11 The drugs are acquired elsewhere, and they are located in areas of concentrated and highly visible drug scenes. Such services have existed for many years in many countries, and there are over 90 sites operating in countries such as Australia, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain and Switzerland.12
Clients of these sites have complex histories of trauma, mental illness and drug use, and live at the margins of society, unreached by traditional health and social services. Supervised consumption sites are developed as low threshold services for hard-to-reach populations which are experiencing unacceptable levels of deaths and diseases. Existing outreach and treatment programs are insufficient to meet the needs of this population, and these sites are a point of entry into health and social services.
Insite, the first supervised injection site in North America, operates in Vancouver's downtown east side as part of the 'four pillars' drug strategy: prevention, treatment, harm reduction, and enforcement.13 14 In 2012, Insite had an average of 1028 visits per day. There were 497 overdose incidents with no fatalities and 3418 clinical treatment interventions. Insite staff made 4564 referrals for further health care, housing and social supports, and the vast majority was for detox and addiction treatment.15
Insite has been one of the most researched public health interventions to date.16 Research was conducted by the BC Centre for Excellence on HIV/AIDS, funded partially by Health Canada, and there are over 30 publications in leading peer-reviewed scientific and medical journals.17 18The evidence shows that there has been:
* A reduction in the overall rate of needle sharing in the area;19
* A reduction in deaths due to overdose in the area, with no overdose deaths in the facility;20 21
* Increased access to addiction counseling and increased enrolment in detox programs;22 23
* Opportunities for HIV prevention through education, and increased links between patients and HIV treatment and services;24
* Improvements in measures of public order including reduced public drug injections and publicly discarded syringes;25 and
* No increase in levels of drug dealing or other drug related crime in the area in which the facility is located. 26
* Cost savings to health and social systems, reducing risks of infectious diseases, intervening early when there are issues, and reducing the need for emergency care.27 28
Reports from other countries show similar results.29 30 However, "research evidence, even if it meets rigorous academic standards, might be insufficient to sway opinions among those who hold a firm view of addiction as a moral failure."31 Assertions that supervised consumption sites will not reduce disease transmission, exacerbate crime, encourage drug use, have destructive effects on local businesses and residents are not based on evidence.
Physicians believe that medical decisions must be based on evidence, not ideology or public opinion, and the evidence shows that supervised injection reduces the spread of infectious diseases, decreases the incidence of overdose and death and increases access to much needed services, without increasing problems with public safety.
Significantly, the Court accepted the evidence that "Insite has saved lives and improved health without increasing the incidence of drug use and crime in the surrounding area."32 It also stated that Insite is supported by the Vancouver police, the city and provincial governments. Supervised consumption rooms aim to address problems of specific, high-risk populations of people who use drugs, particularly those who consume in public and other high risk situations. They seek to meet the needs of those who use drugs, but also of the communities that are struggling with a crisis situation.
The CMA has the following concerns with Bill C-2:
1. Bill C-2 does not strike a balance between the public health and public safety goals of the CDSA. As written, Bill C-2 disregards the strong evidence of important positive impacts on public health and public safety and giving undue emphasis on public opinion, which might not be fully informed or experienced. Although public opinion might initially be against the introduction of such facilities, public acceptance of supervised consumption sites is considerably high in most of the locations where they have been established, in both Vancouver sites (Insite and the Dr Peter Centre) and in European countries. "Health problems have been reduced, and law and order have been improved. Communities, neighbourhoods and local authorities are usually involved in the good functioning of the facilities through cooperation and communication."33 The Supreme Court states that there has been "no discernible negative impact on the public safety and health objectives of Canada during its [Insite's] eight years of operation."
2. Bill C-2 contradicts the spirit and intent of the unanimous decision of the 2011 Supreme Court of Canada regarding Insite which states that "the potential denial of health services and the correlative increase in the risk of death and disease to injection drug users outweigh any benefit that might be derived from maintaining an absolute prohibition on possession of illegal drugs".34 Bill C-2 does not acknowledge the extensive evidence that exists regarding supervised consumption sites both internationally and in Canada, as discussed previously. Passing Bill C-2 in its current form could potentially prevent the renewal of the exemption to Section 56 of the CDSA for Insite. A likely consequence will be further costly litigation.
3. Bill C-2 would impose multiple and significant barriers that providers of health services to obtain an exemption to section 56 of the CDSA. From five criteria in the Supreme Court decision concerning Insite, Bill C-2 lists 27 requirements (Section 56(1)(3)), which include demographic and scientific data, letters of opinions from representatives of local police and local and provincial governments, information about proposed staff, descriptions of planned procedures and reports from community consultations. Such evidence could require extensive resources and funding by local public health units and community agencies. Some of the data required may only be available in the context of a research project. The data is not only influenced by the existence or not of a supervised consumption site, but by many other factors, such as poverty, enforcement resources and others. Community opinion of supervised consumption sites can also change to be significantly positive after experiencing months of its operation. Finally, Bill C-2 does not address how the Minister is to weigh the information submitted, to guarantee impartiality, or even if he or she must consider an application. Even after meeting all those requirements, the Minister has the sole discretion to decide whether a site can open, and the preamble states that exemptions will only be granted in "exceptional circumstances".
4. Bill C-2 did not involve consultation with provincial and territorial ministries of health, community agencies and professional associations, such as the CMA. Public health authorities and particularly health professionals, who work with people with addictions on a daily basis, recognize the dire need for complementary approaches to substance use that address different needs. The exemption to section 56 is for medical purposes, and public health agencies have the competency to determine when there is a need.
It is the CMA's ultimate position that Bill C-2, the Respect for Communities Act must be withdrawn, and that it be replaced with legislation that recognizes the unequivocal evidence of benefits of supervised consumption sites, that was accepted by the Supreme Court. Legislation would enhance access to health services, which include prevention, harm reduction and treatment services in communities where the evidence has shown they would benefit from such health services.
* "Supervised consumption site" is the term used in Bill C-2, section 56.1, and defined as "a location specified in the terms and conditions of an exemption, granted by the Minister under subsection (2) for a medical purpose, that allows any person or class of persons described in the exemption to engage in certain activities in relation to an illicit substance within a supervised and controlled environment." The Supreme Court of Canada and other documents use terms such as "supervised injection site" "supervised injection services", "drug consumption rooms" or "safer injection site". In the literature, supervised consumption sites could also include supervised inhalation services.
1 Bill C-2: An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. 2nd Session, 41st Parliament. Retrieved from: http://www.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?Language=E&Mode=1&DocId=6256959&File=4
2 Supreme Court of Canada (2011) Canada (A.G.) v. PHS Comm. Serv. Soc. Retrieved from: http://scc-csc.lexum.com/scc-csc/scc-csc/en/item/7960/index.do
3 Supreme Court of Canada (2011) Canada (A.G.) v. PHS Comm. Serv. Soc. supra. p.192-3
4 Department of Justice (2013) National Anti-Drug Strategy Evaluation. Retrieved from: http://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/rp-pr/cp-pm/eval/rep-rap/12/nas-sna/p1.html#sec23
5 Day, Brian (2008) "Ottawa's bad prescription on addiction." Toronto Star, Sunday June 8, 2008. Retrieved from: http://www.thestar.com/comment/article/438967
6 Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse (2008) Harm reduction: what's in a name? Retrieved from: http://www.ccsa.ca/Resource%20Library/ccsa0115302008e.pdf
7 National Alcohol Strategy Working Group (2007) Reducing Alcohol-Related Harm in Canada: toward a culture of moderation. Recommendations for a National Alcohol Strategy. Retrieved from: http://ccsa.ca/Resource%20Library/ccsa-023876-2007.pdf
8 International Harm Reduction Association (2010) Harm Reduction: A position statement from the International Harm Reduction Association. IHRA Briefing. Retrieved from: http://www.ihra.net/files/2010/08/10/Briefing_What_is_HR_English.pdf
9 Canadian Medical Association (2010) Factum of the Intervener. Supreme Court of Canada (Appeal from the British Columbia Court of Appeal) between the Attorney General of Canada and Minister of Health for Canada and PHS Community Services Society, Dean Edward Wilson and Shelly Tomic, Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users. Retrieved from: https://www.cma.ca/Assets/assets-library/document/en/advocacy/CMA-Factum_filed14April2011.pdf
10 Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse (2008) Harm reduction: what's in a name? Retrieved from: http://www.ccsa.ca/Resource%20Library/ccsa0115302008e.pdf
11 Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse (2008) Harm reduction: what's in a name? Retrieved from: http://www.ccsa.ca/Resource%20Library/ccsa0115302008e.pdf
12 Schatz, E. & Nougier, M. (2012) Drug consumption rooms: evidence and practice. International Drug Policy Consortium Briefing Paper. Retrieved from: http://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/17898/1/IDPC-Briefing-Paper_Drug-consumption-rooms.pdf
13 City of Vancouver Four Pillars Drug Strategy (2008) Limiting the harms of drug use. Retrieved from: http://vancouver.ca/fourpillars/harmReduction/limitHarmDrugUse.htm
14 Vancouver Coastal Health. Supervised Injection Site (N.D.) Services. Accessed September 19, 2014 at: http://supervisedinjection.vch.ca/services/services
15 Vancouver Coastal Health. Supervised Injection Site (N.D.). Accessed September 19, 2014 at: http://supervisedinjection.vch.ca/research/supporting_research/user_statistics
16 Urban Health Research Initiative (2010). Insight into Insite. Retrieved from: http://www.cfenet.ubc.ca/sites/default/files/uploads/publications/insight_into_insite.pdf
17 Health Canada. Vancouver's Insite service and other supervised injection sites: what has been learned from Research? Final Report of the Expert Advisory Committee. Ottawa: Health Canada, 2008. Prepared for the Hon. Tony Clement, Minister of Health, Government of Canada. Retrieved from: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/ahc-asc/pubs/_sites-lieux/insite/index-eng.php
18 Wood, E. et al. (2006) Summary of findings from the evaluation of a pilot medically supervised safer injecting facility. Canadian Medical Association J, 175(11): 1399-1404.
19 Kerr, T. et al. (2005) Safer injection facility use and syringe sharing in injection drug users. The Lancet 366: 316-18.
20 Milloy M.J., Kerr, T., Tyndall, M., Montaner, J., & Wood E. (2008) Estimated drug overdose deaths averted by North America's first medically-supervised safer injection facility. PLoS ONE 3(10):e3351.
21 Marshall B. D. L., Milloy, M.-J., Wood, E., Montaner, J. S. G., & Kerr, T. (2011). Reduction in overdose mortality after the opening of North America's first medically supervised safer injecting facility: A retrospective population-based study. Lancet. Published online April 18, 2011. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(10)62353-7.
22 Wood, E. et al. (2007) Rate of detoxification service use and its impact among a cohort of supervised injecting facility users. Addiction 102: 916-919.
23 Tyndall, M.W. et al. (2005) Attendance, drug use patterns, and referrals made from North America's first supervised injection facility. Drug and Alcohol Dependence.
24 Tyndall, M.W. et al. (2006) HIV seroprevalence among participants at a medically supervised injection facility in Vancouver Canada: Implications for prevention, care and treatment. Harm Reduction J 3:36.
25 Wood, E. et al. (2004) "Changes in public order after the opening of a medically supervised safer injecting facility for illicit injection drug users." Canadian Medical Association J 171(7): 731-34.
26 Health Canada. Vancouver's Insite service and other supervised injection sites: what has been learned from Research? Final Report of the Expert Advisory Committee. Ottawa: Health Canada, 2008. Prepared for the Hon. Tony Clement, Minister of Health, Government of Canada. Retrieved from: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/ahc-asc/pubs/_sites-lieux/insite/index-eng.php
27 Andresen, M.A. & Boyd, N. (2010) A cost-benefit and cost-effectiveness analysis of Vancouver's supervised injection facility. Int.J.DrugPolicy 21(1): 70-76.
28 Pinkerton, S.D. (2010) Is Vancouver Canada's supervised injection facility cost-saving? Addiction 105(8): 1429-36.
29 Schatz, E. & Nougier, M. (2012) Drug consumption rooms: evidence and practice. International Drug Policy Consortium Briefing Paper.
30 Hedrich, D. (2004) European report on drug consumption rooms. Report prepared for the European Monitoring Centre on Drugs and Drug Addiction.
31 Watson, T.M. et al. (2012) Police Perceptions of Supervised Consumption Sites (SCSs): A Qualitative Study. Substance Use & Misuse, 47:364-374.
32 Supreme Court of Canada (2011) Canada (A.G.) v. PHS Comm. Serv. Soc. supra. p. 136
33 Schatz, E. & Nougier, M. (2012) Drug consumption rooms: evidence and practice. International Drug Policy Consortium Briefing Paper. (p.20)
34 Supreme Court of Canada (2011) Canada (A.G.) v. PHS Comm. Serv. Soc. supra (p.188).
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) appreciates the opportunity to appear before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health to provide our observations concerning Bill C-12, an Act to prevent the introduction and spread of communicable disease, which will repeal and replace the current Quarantine Act.
Since our founding in 1867, the CMA has had a long tradition in the field of public health and infectious diseases. For example, in 1885 we worked with the federal government to prevent an outbreak of cholera in Canada, while in 1891 we began a long campaign to encourage governments to deal with tuberculosis. And fast forward to 2003 and SARS, CMA worked along with many levels of government to deal with this public health crisis.
While the CMA is particularly interested in how the proposed legislation will impact the practices of our more than 58,000 members across the country, we have reviewed this legislation through the lens of what is in the best interest of patients and the public.
1) Comprehensive Approach to Public Health
Our comments call for and are embedded in the broader context of a comprehensive approach to public health. They are also based on previous recommendations CMA has made to the federal government including:
a) Response to the Health Protection Legislative Renewal initiative carried out by Health Canada (2004). In this submission, CMA identified the Quarantine Act as a piece of legislation the CMA believed merited urgent updating;
b) Review of the World Health Organizations’ draft revised International Health Regulations (IHR), (2004);
c) Submission to the Naylor Advisory Committee on SARS and Public Health (2003);
d) Submission to the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology during its study of public health issues (2003); and
e) Pre-budget submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance following September 11, 2001.
These submissions are all available on request, or at www.cma.ca.
The CMA is pleased that Parliament has identified revision of the Quarantine Act as a priority. The Act is more than a century old and the medical community and others have long called for it to be updated. Bill C-12 is an excellent start to modernizing the previous Act; however, we believe the proposed legislation does not go far enough in remedying its deficiencies.
In this submission we present eight key recommendations for your consideration, along with questions about particulars in the implementation process, which we suggest Parliament address in subsequent review of the Act and its regulations.
2) Recommendations for Consideration in Review of Bill C-12
Recommendation 1: The Act should be part of a larger, comprehensive Emergency Health Measures Plan.
In our brief to the Naylor Advisory Committee, CMA recommended the enactment of a comprehensive Emergency Health Measures Act, administered by the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada. This Act would consolidate and enhance existing legislation, allowing for a more rapid national response to health emergencies, in cooperation with the provinces and territories, based on a graduated, systematic approach. We also recommended that the Emergency Health Measures Act be part of a strong commitment, by all levels of government, to a public health strategy that also included a 5-year capacity enhancement program, development of research and surveillance capability; and funding for a communications initiative to improve technical capacity for real-time communication with front-line health providers during public health emergencies.
Recommendation 2: The Chief Public Health Officer of Canada must have authority to enforce the Act
The proposed legislation designates the Minister of Health as the person with ultimate responsibility for enforcing the Act; it grants the Minister sweeping powers including the power to overrule a health official’s quarantine. As medical professionals we believe that public health decisions should be made primarily on the basis of the best available medical and scientific evidence, and should be independent to the greatest extent possible of other considerations.
Therefore we believe that responsibility for the implementation of the Act should rest with the Public Health Agency of Canada, and with the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada, not with the Minister of Health. In the provinces and territories, Medical Officers of Health do not require approvals from their Ministers to exercise their functions as health professionals; the same should hold true at the federal level.
We understand that responsibility has been placed with the Minister of Health due to a lack of existing legislation setting out the mandate, roles, responsibilities and powers of the recently created Public Health Agency of Canada, and the newly appointed Chief Public Health Officer of Canada. We are also aware that enabling legislation is currently being prepared; we urge that this legislation be enacted as soon as possible. On enactment of this enabling legislation, the powers now vested in the Minister should be ceded to the Chief Public Health Officer.
Locating responsibility for administration of the Act within the Public Health Agency of Canada will also combine enforcement with other needed functions of surveillance, monitoring and linkage with international monitoring agencies. As we stressed in our previous recommendation, these must all be part of a comprehensive Canadian emergency response strategy.
Recommendation 3: The Act must address interprovincial as well as international traffic.
We are happy that the provisions of Bill C-12 apply to goods and travellers leaving as well as entering Canada. This was a deficiency identified in the previous Quarantine Act. However, the Act must also expressly address goods and travellers crossing provincial or territorial boundaries.
Currently, there is tremendous variation in public health system capacity among provinces and territories and, more particularly, among municipalities and local authorities. Inconsistencies in provincial approaches to public health matters have resulted in significant weaknesses in the “emergency shield” between and across provinces. Unless the potential consequences of these disparities are remedied through federal legislation they must, as a priority, be remedied through federal/provincial/territorial agreements.
The role of the Public Health Agency of Canada in facilitating, equalizing and monitoring the management of public health emergencies nationwide must be enshrined in the legislation that establishes the Agency. CMA also hopes that the development of a pan-Canadian Public Health Network, acknowledged in the 2004 Throne Speech, will facilitate the nationwide collaboration essential for adequate and appropriate response to health emergencies.
The CMA supports those provisions in Bill C-12 that give the Minister (preferably the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada) the power to establish quarantine centres anywhere in the country. In times of threat to national health security, such bold leadership would be both warranted and expected.
Recommendation 4: “Public Health Emergency” must be adequately defined.
Bill C-12 contains no definition of “public health emergency” or “public health emergency of international concern.” We believe these should be defined.1
Bill C-12 includes a schedule of specific communicable diseases to which its provisions would apply. We are concerned that this Schedule may limit Canada’s capacity to respond to emergencies. The next public health emergency may be a disease we have not heard of yet; or it may be a bio-terrorist attack, or a chemical or nuclear event. The Act must enable Canada to respond to new and emerging, as well as existing, threats to health.
The World Health Organizations’ draft International Health Regulations (IHR) has proposed a set of criteria for assessing emergencies; these include:
* Is the event serious?
* Is the event unexpected?
* Is there a significant risk of international spread?
The CMA urges the Canadian government to consider a hybrid approach incorporating both known disease states and criteria such as the ones used by the IHR, for assessing new diseases or other public health emergencies.
Recommendation 5: The Act, or its regulations, must clarify the roles, responsibilities and training requirements of emergency response personnel.
Some provisions of Bill C-12 have raised questions in our minds about the scope of practice of personnel involved in disease screening, and we would appreciate clarification on these points. For example:
Screening officers, the first point of contact for travelers entering or leaving Canada, are customs officers and others designated by the Minister. Their primary role under Section 14 of the Act is to use “non-invasive” screening technology to detect travelers entering and exiting Canada with communicable disease vectors, etc. According to Section 15 (3) screening officers, who are not health professionals, will have the power to “order any reasonable measure to prevent spread of a communicable disease”. Of what might these “reasonable measures” consist?
Quarantine officers, by definition in Section 5(2) are medical practitioners or other health professionals or anyone else in this “class of persons”. Since the quarantine officer’s job description includes physical assessment of travellers to determine whether they should be detained – a function that requires the expertise of a health professional - we would appreciate clarification of the phrase “in this class”. Similarly, under Section 26, the quarantine officer has the power to order the traveler “to comply with treatment”. Which officer—screening/quarantine or medical—might actually prescribe the course of treatment? This function must be specifically delegated to medical officers.
Bill C-12 gives authorities the powers to restrict personal movement and temporarily impound or seize property. The CMA believes that the government should also provide adequate resources and powers to allow for tracking down apparently well people who cross borders and are subsequently diagnosed with infectious diseases.
The Act or its regulations should also address factors that hinder deployment of qualified health professionals, such as portability of licensure and coverage for malpractice and disability insurance. CMA has previously called for the establishment of a Canadian Public Health Emergency Response Service that would maintain a “reserve” of public health professionals who could be deployed to areas of need during times of crisis, and which would co-ordinate the logistics of the issues above mentioned. This would improve the capacity of health professionals to be deployed quickly in times of health emergency, to locations where they are most needed.
Finally, CMA suggests that the Act or its regulations provide greater detail on training requirements for screening officers, to guarantee that they are appropriately trained.
Recommendation 6: Privacy and confidentiality must be respected and safeguarded.
Bill C-12 grants quarantine officers and the Minister some sweeping powers to arrest and detain people without warrants, including people who have refused to comply with testing. Though on rare occasions such measures may be required to protect the public, it is recognized that potential for their abuse may exist.
In addition, Bill C-12 raises questions about the degree to which personal health information might be exposed to scrutiny. We note that Section 51 authorizes a quarantine officer to “order any person to provide any information or record…the officer might reasonably require.” This provision could include patient medical records in a doctor’s office, particularly if the Bill guarantees travellers the right to request a “second opinion” which we assume could be obtained from any practicing physician in Canada. Similarly, Sections 55 and 56 appear to give the Minister authority to “collect medical information in order to carry out the purposes of this Act” and to “disclose personal information obtained under the Act” to a host of entities.
The CMA believes that the power to obtain and disclose information should be explicitly constrained and circumstances under which this power could be exercised must be outlined in the Act.
Recommendation 7: The role of physicians and other health care workers must be respected.
The health professional sector is on the front lines of response to health emergencies, as they were during the SARS outbreak. Therefore as a first principle the new Act should recognize the importance of health professionals having the power, subject to appropriate constraints, to make vital decisions in response to health emergencies. This is a legitimate delegation of power, because of the competencies of health professionals.
During the SARS outbreak of 2003, physicians and other health care providers were not only partners in containing infection; many became ill or died as well. Since health care workers expose themselves to infection as they respond to health emergencies, protocols should ensure that care and attention is paid to their safety, through measures such as ensuring ready availability of proper masks
The Act or regulations should address precautions required to protect quarantine officers and other health care workers from transmission of disease or the effects of becoming ill. For example, it should address compensation for quarantine officers who lose work because they become infected in the course of their duty.
We would be remiss in our review of this act if we did not pursue with this Committee the issue of compensation and indemnification programs for physicians and trainees requiring quarantine because of exposure to a communicable disease while providing medical service, or who are required to close their offices for other public health reasons, or who cannot practice in hospitals because of closure of hospitals for public health reasons.
Indeed, delegates to our annual general council meeting called on the CMA to do so. A number of these physicians were caught in such situations during the turmoil of the SARS outbreak.
Recommendation 8: Decision-making should be evidence-based.
At times, public perception and political considerations may widely influence the assessment and management of risk. While this is probably unavoidable, CMA believes that public policy should be founded first and foremost on the highest possible quality of scientific evidence. The Act should provide the requisite mechanisms to ensure that reviews of risk are independent and unbiased. We acknowledge, however, that this principle should not be rigidly applied; “we’re waiting for the evidence” must not be used as an excuse for inaction when action is urgently required.
3) Additional Comments
In addition to the above recommendations, additional concerns remain regarding implementation of the Act. In particular we note that many crucial components, such as how physical examinations are to be carried out (section 62(1), medical practitioner’s review process (section 62(d), and the protection of personal information (62(g) are left to regulations. These regulations must be developed as soon as possible.
We understand that the current Act constitutes “Phase I” of a longer-term strategy to enhance Canada’s capacity to respond to public health emergencies. Though we believe that the Quarantine Act merits attention at this time, we also believe that it should be looked at with a longer-term view. For instance, as we have already recommended, it should be incorporated into the broader legislative renewal of public health in Canada, with a view to enhancing this country’s ability to respond swiftly and effectively to public health emergencies, locally and nationwide.
Above all, Canada must ensure a sustained and substantial commitment of resources to its public health emergency response program. Without this, the best-written laws will be inadequate.
The Canadian Medical Association commends the Government of Canada for bringing this bill forward, and looks forward to working with the Government, and the Public Health Agency of Canada, to help keep Canadians safe in the event of a public health emergency.
1 A public health emergency has been defined by the US Model State Emergency Powers Act (http://www.publichealthlaw.net accessed July 7, 2003) as an occurrence or imminent threat of an illness or health condition of a temporary nature that is believed to be caused by:
* the appearance of a novel or previously controlled or eradicated infectious agent or biological toxin;
* a bioterrorist event;
* a natural disaster
* a chemical event or accidental release; or
* a nuclear event or accident
and that poses a high probability of any of the following harms:
* a large number of deaths in the affected population;
* a large number of serious or long-term disabilities in the affected population; or
* widespread exposure to an infectious or toxic agent that poses a significant risk of substantial future harm to a large number of people in the affected population.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to present this brief to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health for consideration as part of its study of Bill C-17, Protecting Canadians from Unsafe Drugs Act, which proposes amendments to the Food and Drugs Act.
The CMA has over 80,000 physician-members. Its mission is to serve and unite the physicians of Canada and to be the national advocate, in partnership with the people of Canada, for the highest standards of health and health care.
Prescription medication has a very important role as part of a high-quality, patient-centred and cost-effective health care system. Prescription medication can prevent serious disease, reduce the need for hospital stays, replace surgical treatment and improve a patient's capacity to function productively in the community. As such, the CMA has developed a substantial body of policy on pharmaceutical issues, including on the post-approval surveillance of prescription medication. Over the last several years, the CMA has prepared several briefs and reports on pharmaceutical medication and prescribing-related issues.1 It is a priority to physicians that all Canadians have access to medically-necessary drugs that are safe, effective, affordable, appropriately prescribed and administered, as part of a comprehensive, patient-centered health care and treatment plan.
The CMA supports a robust legislative framework and unbiased, evidence-based system for the oversight of pharmaceutical products. As outlined below, the CMA has identified opportunities to strengthen elements of Bill C-17 toward this end.
1) Clarify ministerial authority and responsibility
The current legislative limit to the health minister's authorities is troubling. The CMA, along with many other stakeholders, has long called for an expansion of ministerial authorities related to the pharmaceutical legislative framework, including both pre- and post-approval, in support of patient safety.
The CMA supports the underlying intent to expand the authority of the health minister to require the submission of information, modify the label or replace the package, to order a recall or relocation of a product. However, the CMA has two concerns regarding the limitations to this expanded authority (section 3, proposed new FDA sections 21.1, 21.2 and 21.3):
* Firstly, that the threshold for the new authorities in section 3 (new proposed section 21.1, 21.2, and 21.3 of the FDA) may be too high. The term "serious risk of injury to health" will be the standard for these new ministerial powers and may limit the authority of the minister to take action when the concern may be serious, but not necessarily permanently debilitating or life threatening.
* Secondly, that the minister is not required to take any of the actions proposed in Bill C-17 even if the threshold is met (these sections specify that the minister "may" take the specified action, rather than the minister "shall"). While seemingly minor, the difference between "may" and "shall" is the difference between having the authority to take action and being responsible to take this action. This difference is critical to a robust legislative framework for patient safety.
In order to clarify the health minister's authority to take appropriate measures to protect patient safety, the CMA recommends that the standard "a serious risk of injury to human health" in section 3 proposed new FDA section 21.1 and "serious or imminent risk of injury to health" in section 3 proposed new FDA section 21.3 be amended to ensure an appropriate threshold that does not constrain ministerial authority.
Recommendation 2: To ensure that the health minister has the clear responsibility to take appropriate measures to protect patient safety, the CMA recommends that the word "may" is replaced with "shall" in section 3, proposed new FDA sections 21.1, 21.2 and 21.3.
2) Oversight of natural health products
The extensive use of natural health products, such as vitamins and herbal medicines, is partially due to a belief that such products are "natural" and thus low risk. Increasingly, it has become clear that these products can have adverse effects, including drug interactions. However, relatively little is known about the adverse effects associated with natural health products due to its limited legislative and regulatory requirements, including reporting.
To ensure that patient safety risks associated with natural health products are addressed, these products should be included in the new patient safety legislation, as proposed in the previous iteration of this legislation in 2008, Bill C-51 An act respecting foods, therapeutic products and cosmetics. The CMA encourages the Health Committee to include natural health products within the scope of Bill C-17, as a first step toward ensuring that natural health products are subject to the same regulatory requirements and oversight as are prescription and over-the-counter pharmaceuticals in order to promote patient safety.
Recommendation 3: The ministerial authorities and measures proposed in Bill C-17 should be extended to include natural health products and, as such, CMA recommends that the definition of "therapeutic product" in section 2(3), be amended to include natural health products.
3) Comprehensive post-market surveillance and response system
The CMA has advocated for significant improvements to Health Canada's post-market surveillance and response system in light of significant shortcomings.
A) Increasing accountability and public transparency
Robust accountability and transparency are important elements in the legislative framework governing the post-market surveillance and response system. The 2011 report of the Office of the Auditor General of Canada (OAG) highlighted significant concerns regarding this system, not least of which being Health Canada's failure to meet its own benchmarks in reviewing and responding to pharmaceutical safety issues. While there was no assessment of the benchmarks themselves, as is typical with an audit, the OAG report highlighted a number of issues with Health Canada's approach to measuring its performance against its benchmarks.
Following the publication of the OAG audit report, Health Canada's 2013-14 Main Estimates and Report of Plans and Priorities2 shows cuts in both budget and staff allocation for health products (which includes drug oversight). The 2011 OAG report states that "Canada's small population reduces the likelihood of serious, rare adverse drug reactions being identified in this country; therefore, the capacity to search and analyze foreign reports electronically would contribute to more comprehensive safety monitoring."3 Of note, the audit found that Health Canada "does not take timely action in its regulatory activities" (...). "In particular, the Department is slow to assess potential safety issues. It can take more than two years to complete an assessment of potential safety issues and to provide Canadians with new safety information."4
Despite Health Canada's March 2013 update on its efforts to address the OAG recommendations5 the status of the improvements to the reporting tools, timeliness of information or quality of information provided to practitioners and patients remains unclear.
The preceding paragraphs capture a number of issues pertaining to the post-approval surveillance and response system; it is imperative that Health Canada not only address these issues, but that Health Canada has adequate resources to do so. This is paramount prior to any consideration of expanding the input of reporting data.
Recommendation 4: The CMA recommends that Bill C-17 be amended to require Health Canada undertake public consultations in establishing its performance benchmarks related to adverse drug reaction reporting, analysis and response communication.
Recommendation 5: The CMA recommends that Bill C-17 be amended to establish a new public reporting requirement of its performance in meeting its performance benchmarks.
B) Improving the reporting and communication system
The CMA cautions against the advancement of new legislative authority with respect to mandatory reporting of serious adverse drug reactions prior to the improvement of the system and model currently in place.
Information gathering does not in itself constitute post-market surveillance. In our opinion, the most important element of the process is the monitoring and analysis that occurs once an adverse drug reaction report has been received. Monitoring capacity requires rigorous data analysis and, to be useful in preventing further adverse events, it must be timely. As well, it should also provide information about a drug's efficacy and effectiveness.
When new information is uncovered about a prescription drug, it is important that health professionals are made aware of it as quickly and efficiently as possible. Therefore, post-approval surveillance requires a system for communicating timely, reliable and objective information in a manner that allows them to incorporate it into their everyday practice. Ideally, this communication would report not the safety problem alone but also its implications for their patients and practice: for example, whether some patients are particularly at risk, or whether therapeutic alternatives are available. Such feedback will encourage further reporting.
In order to improve patient safety, the CMA recommends that Health Canada's establish a model that includes:
* Making it easier for physicians and other health professionals to report adverse drug reactions by making the reporting system user-friendly and easy to incorporate into a practitioner's busy schedule. Currently the existing system imposes an unnecessary administrative burden that comes at the expense of time dedicated to patient care.
* Making the reporting process even more efficient by incorporating it directly into the Electronic Health Record systems. Health Canada has improved the process by introducing online reporting, which may have contributed to the significant increase in the number of reports over the past 10 years, but being able to connect patient information with drugs they are taking, reporting of adverse drug reactions and safety information would improve care on the front line.
* Augmenting spontaneous reports with information gathered through other, more systematic means. These could include formal post-market studies of specific drugs, or recruitment of "sentinel" groups of health care providers who would contract to report adverse drug reactions in detail, and who would be committed to assiduous reporting.
* Linking to international post-approval surveillance systems, thus increasing the body of data at researchers' disposal, as well as the capacity for meaningful analysis.
Health Canada should take a leadership role in ensuring that the public has access to appropriate information on drugs and drug safety, engaging civil society at the appropriate phases of the process. In providing this information, Health Canada should consider the management and communication of risk, and take into account the diversity of Canada's population. Access to accurate, unbiased information allows people to make decisions regarding their own health.
In addition to ensuring a comprehensive model is in place, it is essential that there be more clarity in Bill C-17 regarding what constitutes a "prescribed health care institution". There are very different changes to the system that would need to be in place should it refer to tertiary care hospitals, community hospitals, clinics or doctors in family practice. Bill C-17 must not place an unnecessary administrative burden, which would ultimately fall on health professionals. Further, it is unclear whether a cost assessment of the proposed new requirements for health care institutions with respect to provincial/territorial resources has been undertaken. Only those health care institutions that are best positioned to improve the quantity and quality of reporting should be required to report.
Another term that requires clarification in the legislation is "serious adverse drug reaction". It should be clear whether it means adverse drug reactions that require visits to emergency departments or hospitalization, or whether there are other criteria to define it.
Recommendation 6: The CMA recommends that Bill C-17 be amended to require that Health Canada implement comprehensive post-surveillance monitoring and reporting model that includes:
* Accessible, comprehensive and user-friendly reporting tools that are clinically relevant and linked to electronic health records;
* Rigorous and timely analysis of reports for the early identification and response to emerging drug safety threats; and
* Communication of timely, user-friendly and clinically-relevant information to health care practitioners and the public.
Recommendation 7: The CMA recommends amendment of Bill C-17 section 5, proposed new FDA section 21.8, to require that an assessment by the minister for reporting regulations be undertaken following a prescribed period after this new model is established; that this assessment precede the coming into force of expanded mandatory reporting.
Recommendation 8: The CMA recommends that essential terminology be defined in Bill C-17, including (a) "serious adverse drug reaction" and (b) "health care institution".
Canada's physicians are prepared to work with governments, health professionals and the public in strengthening Canada's post-approval surveillance system, to ensure that the prescription drugs Canadians receive are safe and effective.
1 Canadian Medical Association (2005) Building a Comprehensive Post-Market Surveillance System. CMA's Response to Health Canada's Discussion Paper 'Designing a Mandatory System for Reporting Serious Adverse Reactions'. CMA. Retrieved from: http://www.cma.ca/multimedia/CMA/Content_Images/Inside_cma/Submissions/2005/English/Mandatory_Response.pdf
Canadian Medical Association (2014) Federal levers to address unintended consequences of prescription pharmaceuticals and support public health, quality care, and patient safety. CMA Submission to the Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology. CMA. Retrieved from: http://www.cma.ca/multimedia/CMA/Content_Images/Inside_cma/Submissions/2014/SOCI_BriefEnglish-Final.pdf
Canadian Medical Association (2008) Post-Market Surveillance of Pharmaceutical Products. CMA Submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health. CMA. Retrieved from: https://www.cma.ca/multimedia/CMA/Content_Images/Inside_cma/Submissions/2008/brief-drug-en-08.pdf
Canadian Medical Association (2012) Prescription Drugs: Clinical Trials and Approval. CMA Presentation to the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology. CMA. Retrieved from: https://www.cma.ca/multimedia/CMA/Content_Images/Inside_cma/Submissions/2012/Senate-ClinicalTrials_en.pdf
Canadian Medical Association (2012) Prescription Pharmaceuticals in Canada: The Post-Approval Monitoring of Prescription Pharmaceuticals. CMA Submission to the Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology. CMA. Retrieved from: http://www.cma.ca/multimedia/CMA/Content_Images/Inside_cma/Submissions/2012/Senate-Pharmaceuticals-Oct2012_en.pdf
Canadian Medical Association (2014) Review of Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. Submission to Health Canada in response to the consultation on the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and its regulations. CMA. Retrieved from: http://www.cma.ca/multimedia/CMA/Content_Images/Inside_cma/Submissions/2014/CMA_SubmissiontoHealthCanada-CDSA_Modernization.pdf
Canadian Medical Association (2013) The need for a national strategy to address abuse and misuse of prescription drugs in Canada. CMA Submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health. CMA. Retrieved from: http://www.cma.ca/multimedia/CMA/Content_Images/Inside_cma/Submissions/2013/Prescription-Drug-Abuse_en.pdf
2 Health Canada (2013) 2013-14 Report on Plans and Priorities. Government of Canada.
http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/ahc-asc/alt_formats/pdf/performance/estim-previs/plans-prior/2013-2014/report-rapport-eng.pdf (pg 30)
3 Office of the Auditor General of Canada (2011) Chapter 4 Regulating Pharmaceutical Drugs - Health Canada. 2011 Fall Report of the Auditor General of Canada. Government of Canada. Retrieved from: http://www.oag-bvg.gc.ca/internet/docs/parl_oag_201111_04_e.pdf (pg 21)
4 Office of the Auditor General of Canada (2011) Chapter 4 Regulating Pharmaceutical Drugs - Health Canada. 2011 Fall Report of the Auditor General of Canada. Government of Canada. Retrieved from: http://www.oag-bvg.gc.ca/internet/docs/parl_oag_201111_04_e.pdf (pg 2)
5 Health Canada (2013) Update and response to OAG recommendations for the regulation of pharmaceutical drugs in Fall 2011. Government of Canada. Retrieved from:
The Canadian Medical Association is pleased to present this submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health regarding Bill C-422, National Lyme disease strategy.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is the national organization representing over 80,000 physicians in Canada; its mission is to serve and unite the physicians of Canada and to be the national advocate, in partnership with the people of Canada, for the highest standards of health and health care.
Lyme disease is a growing problem in Canada. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) there were 315 cases of Lyme disease reported in Canada in 2012 -two and one-half times more cases than the 128 reported in 2009, the year that it became a reportable disease. In the Ottawa area, cases have increased almost 8 fold from 6 in 2009 to 47 in 2013. The PHAC surveillance indicates that established populations of blacklegged ticks are spreading their geographic scope, and are increasing in number, in much of southern Canada. In 2013 the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention released new estimates of Lyme disease that was 10 times higher than the previous yearly reported number of 30,000 reported cases.1 This highlights the difficulty in establishing the true burden of illness from Lyme disease.
Why this matters to Canada's physicians
The Canadian Medical Association supports the implementation of a national strategy that can address the breath of public health and medical issues surrounding the spread of Lyme disease in Canada. As with any new infectious disease threat, Canada needs to ensure that we are prepared to address the impact of Lyme disease on Canadians.
CMA's policy on climate change and human health notes that changes in the range of some infectious disease vectors such as blacklegged ticks, are a possible consequence of climate change in Canada. Research has suggested that the tick vector of Lyme disease has been expanding into southeastern Canada which can lead to increased disease risk for those living in areas with tick populations.2
In this policy, CMA recommends that the federal government report diseases that emerge in relation to global climate change, and participate in field investigations, as with outbreaks of infectious diseases like Lyme disease, and develop and expand surveillance systems to include diseases caused by global climate change.
The World Medical Association Declaration of Delhi on Health and Climate Change urges colleges and universities to develop locally appropriate continuing medical and public health education on the clinical signs, diagnosis and treatment of new diseases that are introduced into communities as a result of climate change. Diagnosis of Lyme disease can be difficult, as signs and symptoms can be non-specific and found in other conditions. 3 If Lyme disease is not recognized during the early stages, patients may suffer seriously debilitating disease, which may be more difficult to treat.4 Given the increasing incidence of Lyme disease in Canada, continuing education for health care and public health professionals and a national standard of care would improve identification, treatment and management of Lyme disease. Greater awareness of where blacklegged ticks are endemic in Canada, as well as information on the disease and prevention measures, can help Canadians protect themselves from infection.
The CMA supports a national Lyme disease strategy which includes the federal, provincial and territorial governments and the medical and patient communities. This strategy must address concerns around research, surveillance, diagnosis, treatment and management of the disease and public health prevention measures will advance our current knowledge base, and improve the care and treatment of those suffering from Lyme disease.
Once again, CMA is pleased to provide this brief to the Standing Committee on Health as part of its study on this important issue. Canada's physicians recognize the importance of monitoring all emerging infectious diseases in Canada. In addition, Canada's physicians recognize the importance of developing strategies to treat, manage, and prevent Lyme disease in Canada.
1 CDC provides estimate of Americans diagnosed with Lyme disease each year, media release August 19, 2013 Accessed at http://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2013/p0819-lyme-disease.html on Feb 21, 2014.
2 Ogden, N., L. Lindsay, and P. Leighton. 2013. Predicting the rate of invasion of the agent of Lyme disease Borrelia burgdorferi. Journal of Applied Ecology. April, 2013. 50(2):510-518.
3 Mayo Clinic, accessed at http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/lyme-disease/basics/tests-diagnosis/con-20019701 on Feb 21, 2014.
4 Wormser GP, Dattwyler RJ, Shapiro ED, et al. The clinical assessment, treatment, and prevention of Lyme disease, human granulocytic anaplasmosis, and babesiosis: clinical practice guidelines by the Infectious Diseases Society of America. Clin Infect Dis 2006;43: 1089-134.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to provide this submission in response to Health Canada's Notice of proposed order to amend the schedule to the Tobacco Act1, from October 14, 2014, on the restriction of the use of additives.
Canada's physicians have been working for decades toward the goal of a smoke-free Canada. The CMA issued its first public warning concerning the hazards of tobacco in 1954 and has continued to advocate for the strongest possible measures to control its use.
Flavoured tobacco products include candy or fruit flavoured products including cigarillos, water pipe tobacco, smokeless tobacco and blunt wraps. They come in flavours that are appealing to youth such as chocolate, mint, cherry, peach, or strawberry. Flavouring makes the tobacco products more palatable to youth and young adult smokers because they have a lower tolerance for irritation and an underdeveloped taste for tobacco smoke.2 Menthol is a long standing and common flavour used in cigarettes and is used to reduce the harshness of cigarette smoke. It is the most popular flavour among youth. Almost three out of 10 Canadian youth who smoked cigarettes in the last 30 days (29 per cent) reported smoking menthol cigarettes.3
Tobacco Use and Youth
While tobacco use has declined in Canada we must remain vigilant in our efforts to reduce smoking rates. Today 16 per cent of Canadians continue to smoke on a regular basis and physicians are particularly concerned about the smoking prevalence among young adults and youth with 20 per cent of those aged 20-24, and 11 per cent of youth aged 15-19 currently smoking on a regular basis. 4
Flavoured tobacco products, with their appeal to young Canadians are a major threat to the health and well-being of our youth. A recent report, Flavoured Tobacco Use: Evidence from Canadian Youth based on the 2012/13 Youth Smoking Survey, shows that young people are using flavoured tobacco products at high levels. Results show that 50 per cent of high school students in Canada who used tobacco products in the previous 30 days used flavoured tobacco products.5
Previous Amendments Regarding Flavouring Agents
The CMA supported efforts of the federal government in 2009 to limit the addition of flavouring agents to tobacco products through the 2010 Act to Amend the Tobacco Act. But the Act did not cover all tobacco products and it excluded menthol as a flavouring agent. Manufacturers have been able to modify the weight and packaging of their products to technically comply with the Act while they continue to market flavoured products.
It is the CMA's position that the federal government has an important role in smoking cessation and prevention among youth. The CMA supports the proposed extension of the prohibitions on the use of certain flavouring additives in relation to the manufacture and sale of little cigars to cigars weighing more than 1.4 g but less than 6 g.
The CMA remains very concerned that these amendments do not ban menthol flavouring in tobacco products. To that end, the CMA recommends that Health Canada extend its prohibition on flavouring additives to include a ban on the addition of menthol in all tobacco products.
1 Health Canada. Notice of proposed order to amend the schedule to the Tobacco Act. October 14, 2014. Accessed at: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hc-ps/consult/_2014/tobacco-act-loi-tabac/index-eng.php
2 Carpenter CM, Wayne GF, Pauly JL, Koh HK, Connolly GN. New cigarette brands with flavors that appeal to youth: Tobacco marketing strategies: Tobacco industry documents reveal a deliberate strategy to add flavors known to appeal to younger people. Health Affairs 2005;24(6):1601-1610.
3 Manske SR, Rynard VL, Minaker LM. 2014 (September). Flavoured Tobacco Use among Canadian Youth: Evidence from Canada's 2012/2013 Youth Smoking Survey. Waterloo: Propel Centre for Population Health Impact, 1-18. cstads.ca/reports.
4 Canadian Tobacco Use Monitoring Survey 2012 , accessed at http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hc-ps/tobac-tabac/research-recherche/stat/ctums-esutc_2012-eng.php.
5 Manske SR, Rynard VL, Minaker LM. 2014 (September). Flavoured Tobacco Use among Canadian Youth: Evidence from Canada's 2012/2013 Youth Smoking Survey. Waterloo: Propel Centre for Population Health Impact, 1-18. cstads.ca/reports.
Minaker L, Manske S, Rynard VL, Reid JL & Hammond D. Tobacco Use in Canada: Patterns and Trends, 2014 Edition - Special Supplement: Flavoured Tobacco Use. Waterloo, ON: Propel Centre for Population Health Impact, University of Waterloo.
Canadian Medical Association 2
November 10, 2014
On behalf of its more than 82,000 members and the Canadian public, CMA performs a wide variety of functions. Key functions include advocating for health promotion and disease prevention policies and strategies, advocating for access to quality health care, facilitating change within the medical profession, and providing leadership and guidance to physicians to help them influence, manage and adapt to changes in health care delivery.
The CMA is a voluntary professional organization representing the majority of Canada's physicians and comprising 12 provincial and territorial divisions and 51 national medical organizations.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to provide this submission to the House of Commons Health Committee for its study on e-cigarettes.
Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, which replicate the act and taste of smoking, but do not contain tobacco, are growing rapidly in popularity. The tube of an e-cigarette contains heat-producing batteries and a chamber holding liquid, mainly propylene glycol. When heated, the liquid is turned into vapour which is drawn into the lungs. Ingredients vary by brand but many contain nicotine. Flavourings are also added with the intention of boosting their appeal to young people. Issues have been identified with labelling of e-cigarettes, where upon inspection, there have been contaminants, and nicotine has been detected in products labeled without nicotine.1 Users are generally able to modify the contents of e-cigarettes, with the addition of other substances, including marijuana.
Originally most e-cigarette manufacturers were small entrepreneurial companies; now, however, all major transnational tobacco companies are also producing e-cigarettes and competing for a share in the market.
There are little data on Canadian use. In the U.S., one in five adult smokers has tried them, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention2.
Current Regulatory Status
Health Canada issued a warning in 20093 about the potential dangers and the fact that e-cigarettes had not been fully evaluated for safety, quality and efficacy. The sale of e-cigarettes containing nicotine is currently illegal in Canada under the Food and Drugs Act regulations4 though they can still be purchased in the US or over the Internet. However, those that do not make any health claim and do not contain nicotine may legally be sold in Canada under the same regulation. Health Canada is considering additional regulatory measures but none have yet been introduced. Some municipal jurisdictions are also considering regulation changes.
Internationally, regulation of e-cigarettes is just beginning, and approaches vary. A few countries - such as Brazil, Norway and Singapore - have banned them outright. France plans to regulate e-cigarettes in the same way as tobacco products, and the US Food and Drug Administration is considering a similar approach. On the other hand, Britain will regulate e-cigarettes as non-prescription drugs starting in 2016.5
Current evidence is insufficient to estimate the health effects of e-cigarettes. There are both defenders and opponents, though their arguments are based largely on opinion since e-cigarettes are only beginning to undergo rigorous clinical testing.6
Proponents, including some health officials and groups, say they are safer than tobacco cigarettes since they do not contain the tar and other toxic ingredients that are the cause of tobacco related disease.7 Some believe they serve a useful purpose as a harm reduction tool or cessation aid, although marketing them as such is not permitted since that claim has never been approved by Health Canada.
Opponents are concerned that the nicotine delivered via e-cigarettes is addictive and that the e-cigarettes may contain other toxic ingredients such as nitrosamines, a carcinogen. Also, they worry that acceptance of e-cigarettes will undermine efforts to de-normalize smoking, and that they may be a gateway to use of tobacco by people who might otherwise have remained smoke-free.8 The use of flavouring agents and attractive packaging could entice children and youth, and survey data in some countries has shown that teens are increasingly experimenting with e-cigarettes.
There has also been a dramatic increase in cases of nicotine overdose by ingestion or through dermal contact, particularly in children.9 The number of these incidents seems to be rising in countries that monitor poisonings.
The World Health Organization recently released a report on the health impacts of electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) use which incorporates the 2013 deliberations and scientific recommendations by the WHO Study Group on Tobacco Product Regulation. It concludes that "ENDS use poses serious threats to adolescents and fetuses. In addition, it increases exposure of non-smokers and bystanders to nicotine and a number of toxicants." The report says that it is possibly less toxic for the smoker than conventional cigarettes but it is unknown by how much.10 This report suggests that governments should have the following regulatory objectives:
* impede the promotion and uptake of e-cigarettes with nicotine by non-smokers, pregnant women and youth;
* minimize potential health risks to e-cigarette users and non-users;
* prohibit unproven health claims from being made about e-cigarettes; and
* protect existing tobacco-control efforts from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry.11
Given the absence of solid evidence of harms or benefits, CMA recommends that:
1. E-cigarettes containing nicotine should not be authorized for sale in Canada.
2. The sale of all e-cigarettes should be prohibited to Canadians younger than the minimum age for tobacco consumption in their province or territory.
3. Smoke-free policies should be expanded to include a ban on the use of e-cigarettes in areas where smoking is prohibited.
4. Research on the potential harms and benefits of electronic cigarette use should be supported.
1 Institut national de santé publique du Québec (INSPQ). (Mai 2013). La cigarette électronique: état de situation. Available : http://www.inspq.qc.ca/pdf/publications/1691_CigarElectro_EtatSituation.pdf
2 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About one in five U.S. adult cigarette smokers have tried an electronic cigarette. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Press Release. February 28, 2013 Available: http://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2013/p0228_electronic_cigarettes.html (accessed October 31, 2014)
3 Health Canada. Health Canada Advises Canadians Not to Use Electronic Cigarettes (archived). Available: http://www.healthycanadians.gc.ca/recall-alert-rappel-avis/hc-sc/2009/13373a-eng.php (accessed October 31, 2014)
4 Health Canada. Notice - To All Persons Interested in Importing, Advertising or Selling Electronic Smoking Products in Canada. Available: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/dhp-mps/prodpharma/applic-demande/pol/notice_avis_e-cig-eng.php (accessed October 31, 2014)
5 Kelland, K. & Hirschler, B. Insight - No smoke, plenty of fire fuels e-cigarettes. Reuters. June 13, 2013. http://uk.reuters.com/article/2013/06/13/uk-ecigarettes-insight-idUKBRE95C0F720130613 (accessed October 31, 2014)
6 Non-Smokers Rights Association. Product Regulation: The Buzz on E-Cigarettes. Available: http://www.nsra-adnf.ca/cms/page1385.cfm (accessed October 31, 2014)
7 Weeks, C. Could e-cigarettes save smokers' lives? Some health advocates think so. The Globe and Mail April 29, 2013. Retrieved from http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/health-and-fitness/health/could-e-cigarettes-save-smokers-lives-some-health-advocates-think-so/article11583353/?cmpid=rss1
8 Toronto Public Health. E-cigarettes in Toronto. Staff report to the Toronto Board of Health. August 1, 2014. Available: http://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/mmis/2014/hl/bgrd/backgroundfile-72510.pdf (accessed October 31, 2014).
9 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Notes from the Field: Calls to Poison Centers for Exposures to Electronic Cigarettes - United States, September 2010-February 2014. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 63(13): 292-293. April 4, 2014. Available: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6313a4.htm?s_cid=mm6313a4_w (accessed October 31, 2014).
10 World Health Organization. Electronic nicotine delivery systems. Conference of the Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Sixth session Moscow, Russian Federation, 13-18 October 2014. Provisional agenda item 4.4.2. Available: http://apps.who.int/gb/fctc/PDF/cop6/FCTC_COP6_10-en.pdf?ua=1
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) welcomes the opportunity to provide input to the Standing Senate Committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce study of Bill C-31 the Budget Implementation Bill, in particular the section concerned with tobacco taxation.
Tobacco use is still the number one cause of preventable disease and death in Canada, claiming 37,000 or more Canadians' lives every year. It is a major risk factor for the chronic diseases that burden Canadians and their health care system, and it costs the country over $17 billion per year for medical treatment, social assistance, lost productivity and reduced quality of life. While progress has been made in lowering smoking rates and changing attitudes towards smoking much work remains - nearly 4.6 million Canadians still smoke.
Physicians have been warning of the dangers of smoking for over 50 years. Canada's doctors treat the harmful effects of tobacco use every day in their offices, and see first-hand the devastation it causes to patients and their families. The CMA has consistently recommended tough legislative and regulatory measures to control tobacco use. Comprehensive tobacco control efforts must include legislation, regulation, together with public education and smoking cessation programs.
Impact of Price on Smoking
Research has shown that an increase in cigarette prices has an impact on reducing both the number of cigarettes smoked and smoking prevalence rates. Permanent, inflation-adjusted increases in cigarette prices, which could be achieved by increasing cigarette taxes, will contribute to reducing cigarette smoking rates in Canada. Youth are up to three times more sensitive to price than adults, with a 10 per cent price increase estimated to reduce youth smoking prevalence by 5 per cent or more and also to reduce cigarette consumption among continuing young smokersi
With the current smoking rate of 20 per cent among Canadian young adults, higher than the smoking rate for the rest of Canada which is 16 per cent, additional initiatives to reduce smoking in this population are urgently required.
Research has also shown that persons of low socioeconomic status are more responsive to price than the general population but it is less clear on the impact on long-term heavy smokers and aboriginal smokersii
Estimates imply that the long-run effect of a permanent price increase is approximately double the short-run impact. Thus, a 10 per cent increase in cigarette price is expected to reduce the prevalence of cigarette smoking by approximately 8 per cent in the long run.iii
Excise Tax Adjustments
The current proposal to adjust the domestic rate of excise duty on tobacco products to account for inflation and eliminate the preferential excise duty treatment of tobacco products available through duty free markets will increase the cost of cigarettes and other tobacco products like fine-cut tobacco for use in roll-your-own cigarettes, chewing tobacco and cigars. For example, the government has stated that the excise "duty free" rate for cigarettes will increase from $15.00 to $21.03 per carton of 200 cigarettes. The commitment to make an automatic inflation adjustment every 5 years is a means to ensure that tobacco tax rates retain their real value in the future.
The CMA recommends passage of the proposal under Part 3 of Bill C-31 to increase the domestic rate of excise duty, accounting for inflation and eliminating the preferential excise duty treatment of tobacco products. This proposal represents a positive step toward the development of a federal integrated tobacco tax strategy for both domestic and imported products, and speaks to the importance of the relationship between health policy and tax policy.
There is a risk that a rise in tobacco taxes with the resultant rise in the cost of smoking will lead to an increase in the smuggling of lower-cost cigarettes. To avoid potential unintended consequences, such as smuggling, the CMA recommends that the federal government work with other countries to ensure that tobacco prices are harmonized across national borders. In addition, all levels of government should take the most stringent measures possible to control the sale and distribution of contraband tobacco, on their own and in cooperation with other affected jurisdictions.
Investing Tobacco Taxes in Health Promotion
The Minister of Finance has estimated that increasing tobacco taxes, including excise taxes on tobacco products, will increase federal tax revenues by $96 million in 2013-14, 685 million in 2014-15 and $660 million in 2015-16.
The CMA recommends that the revenue from increased taxation should be directed towards strengthening Canada's tobacco control strategy.
The CMA recommends that tobacco taxation policy should be used in conjunction with other strategies for promoting healthy public policy, such as public education programs to reduce tobacco use. The federal government should place a high priority for funding tobacco prevention and evidence-based cessation programs for young Canadians as early as primary school age. For these, substantial and sustainable funding is required.
A portion of these tobacco taxes should also be used to defray the costs of tobacco interventions, including physician-based clinical tobacco intervention services and up to 12 weeks stop-smoking medication annually per smoker. We encourage the government to focus their efforts on "high-risk" and "hard-to-reach" populations.
For Canada's Tobacco Control strategy to continue to reduce smoking rates in Canada we must continue to assess evolving best practices in smoking cessation programs, and conduct research on the impact of policies on high risk populations.
The CMA recommends that a portion of the revenues from tobacco taxes can be directed towards supporting evidence-based action to reduce tobacco use. This evidence comes from surveying Canadians on smoking behavior, conducting research and evaluation, and keeping track of trends and emerging issues.
The CMA supports increasing the excise duty on tobacco products. An increase in the excise duty tax on tobacco products is long overdue and a welcome contribution to efforts already underway to further reduce smoking rates in Canada.
Summary of Recommendations
The CMA recommends passage of the proposal under Part 3 of Bill C-31 to increase the domestic rate of excise duty, accounting for inflation and eliminating the preferential excise duty treatment of tobacco products.
The CMA recommends that the federal government work with other countries to ensure that tobacco prices are harmonized across national borders to avoid potential unintended consequences, such as smuggling.
The CMA recommends that the revenue from increased taxation should be directed towards strengthening Canada's tobacco control strategy.
The CMA recommends that tobacco taxation policy should be used in conjunction with other strategies for promoting healthy public policy, such as public education programs to reduce tobacco use.
The CMA recommends that a portion of the revenues from tobacco taxes can be directed towards supporting evidence-based action to reduce tobacco use.
i The Impact of Price on Youth Tobacco Use, Tobacco Control Monograph NO. 14
Frank J. Chaloupka, Rosalie Liccardo Pacula
ii Effects of Tobacco Taxation and Pricing on Smoking Behavior in High Risk Populations: A Knowledge Synthesis
Pearl Bader, David Boisclair, Roberta Ferrence
Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2011 November; 8(11): 4118-4139. Published online 2011 October 26. doi: 10.3390/ijerph8114118
iii The Impact of Price on Youth Tobacco Use, Tobacco Control Monograph NO. 14
Frank J. Chaloupka, Rosalie Liccardo Pacula
CMA's Submission to the Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology as part of its study on prescription pharmaceuticals: Federal levers to address unintended consequences of prescription pharmaceuticals and support public health, quality care, and patient safety
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to present this submission to the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology for consideration as part of its study on prescription pharmaceuticals in Canada. In this phase, the Committee is studying the unintended consequences of pharmaceuticals, and witnesses to date have identified a broad range of such consequences.
In recognition of the important role of prescription medication in patient care, the CMA has developed an extensive body of policy on pharmaceutical medication and prescribing-related issues, some of which we have shared with this Committee on previous occasions. Physicians are concerned that all Canadians have access to medically-necessary medication that is safe, effective, affordable, appropriately prescribed and administered, and part of a comprehensive, patient-centered health care and treatment plan.
In this brief, the CMA identifies and discusses five issues that are unintended consequences of prescription pharmaceuticals related to public health, quality care and patient safety. These are: addressing shortages in the supply of prescription pharmaceuticals; addressing the abuse and misuse of prescription medication; improved post-market surveillance and reporting tools; supporting optimal prescribing; and, addressing gaps in insurance coverage.
1) Addressing shortages in the supply of prescription medication
Over the past few years Canada's doctors have become deeply concerned about the persistent shortages of prescription medication.
Drug shortages have serious consequences for patient care. For example, if a patient on long-term therapy has been stabilized on a drug which becomes unavailable, and is switched to another drug that produces poorer results, this can lead to a decline in health status. The cost of the substitute medication might be beyond a patient's financial capacity. In some cases a therapeutic alternative may not be available at all.
The CMA has participated on a Multi Stakeholder Working Group on Drug Shortages, with Health Canada, the pharmaceutical industry and health professional organizations, to establish a Canadian drug shortage reporting website. Although a drug shortage reporting website has been established, there is significant room for improvement. While this website may provide information on products in shortage, it is not clear that all shortages are reported, no mechanism for redress is identified, and most importantly drug shortages are persisting.
The CMA supports an investigation into the underlying causes of prescription drug shortages in Canada. One frequently cited reason for shortages is product manufacturing disruptions, such as the 2011 production stoppage at a Sandoz facility in Quebec which resulted in a scramble to find alternate sources of many essential medications. Such disruptions are of particular concern when the drugs in question have been "single sourced" due to government bulk purchasing policies, and no clear substitutes are available. Therefore, the CMA supports the development of strategies at the provincial/territorial and federal level to discourage single source purchasing decisions.
The CMA continues to call on governments and manufacturers to take meaningful action to address the impacts of shortages includingdeveloping appropriate mitigation strategies to reduce the number of drug shortages in Canada and their impact on patient health and patient care.
To support this goal, the CMA recommends that the Committee extend its study on prescription pharmaceuticals to explore the root causes of shortages in the supply of prescription medication in Canada and strategies to mitigate the impacts on patients and patient care.
2) Addressing the misuse and abuse of prescription medication
The use of prescription opioid pain relievers is on the rise, in Canada and internationally. Latest reports indicate that Canada has the second highest per capita consumption of prescription opioids in the world, after the United States. The misuse and abuse of prescription medication is a serious problem and because of its complexity, requires a complex and multifaceted solution.
Canada's physicians are concerned about the abuse and misuse of prescription medication for a number of reasons. For one, physicians need to assess the condition of patients who request the medication, and consider whether the use is clinically indicated and whether the benefits outweigh the risks. This can be challenging as there is no objective test for assessing pain, and therefore the prescription of opioids rests to a great extent on mutual trust between the physician and the patient. For another, physicians may need to prescribe treatment for patients who become addicted to the medications. Finally, they are vulnerable to patients who forge their signatures or use other illegal means to obtain prescriptions, or who present with fraudulent symptoms, or plead or threaten when denied the drugs they have requested.
Opioid prescription pharmaceuticals are legal products intended for legitimate therapeutic purposes, such as pain management or palliative and end-of-life care. However, they may also be used for recreational purposes or to feed an addiction. It must be recognized that it is addiction which drives the drugs' illegal acquisition through means such as doctor-shopping, forging prescribers' signatures, or buying from street dealers or the Internet.
The CMA recommends that the federal government work with provincial/territorial governments and other stakeholders to develop and implement a comprehensive national strategy to address the problem of prescription drug misuse and abuse in Canada. Such a strategy should include:
a) Programs to prevent misuse: The aim of prevention programs should be to reduce both recreational use and inappropriate therapeutic use. Awareness programs and social marketing campaigns could include:
* Information on the benefits and harms of prescription drug misuse, and signs of abuse, addiction or overdose;
* Instructions regarding safe storage and disposal. This is important since young recreational users frequently report that they obtain drugs from the family medicine cabinet. CMA supports national prescription drug "take back" days, and recommends that patients be educated about the importance of returning unused prescription drugs to the pharmacy.
b) Measures to reduce the risk of overdose: Overdose deaths due to opioid use have grown dramatically over the past ten years. The risk of harm from overdose may be compounded if recreational users are afraid to call for emergency assistance for fear of facing criminal charges. However, opioid overdoses can be prevented with appropriate medication and prompt emergency response.
c) Access to treatment services: A national strategy should also improve patient access to specialized pain management services, and to treatment for opioid addiction. Many believe that if specialized pain treatments were widely available, patients and prescribers would be less likely to rely solely on medication to treat their often debilitating pain.
d) A pan-Canadian prescription monitoring program: Programs to monitor the prescribing of opioids and other controlled substances exist in most provinces, but they vary in quality, in the nature of the information they require, and in the purpose for which data is collected. The CMA recommends that all levels of government work with one another and health professional regulatory agencies to develop a pan-Canadian system of real-time prescription drug abuse monitoring and surveillance. This should include the development of national standards for prescription monitoring, to ensure that all jurisdictions across Canada are collecting the same information in a standard way.
Standardization of surveillance and monitoring systems can have a number of positive effects, including:
* Identifying fraudulent attempts to obtain a prescription, such as an attempt to fill prescriptions from a number of different providers.
* Deterring inter-provincial fraud.
* Supporting professional regulatory bodies actively monitor and intervene, as needed, with practitioners suspected of over-prescribing or over-dispensing frequently-misused medications.
* Finally, supporting researchers gather consistent data to improve our knowledge of the problem, identify research priorities, and determine best practices to address crucial issues.
We are pleased that federal, provincial and territorial health ministries have expressed interest in working together on prescription drug abuse issues, and we hope that this will result in a coherent national system for monitoring and surveillance, and thus to improved knowledge about the nature of the problem and its most effective solutions.
3) Improving post-market surveillance and reporting tools
Health Canada has traditionally approved drugs for general use based on clinical trials that tend to be of short duration and have relatively few participants. As a result, when a prescription pharmaceutical comes on the market there is still limited information about its safety or effectiveness, and there is a need to keep gathering information from people who are using it in "real-world" conditions. As a consequence, adverse drug reactions (ADRs) are all too common in Canada; according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, one in 200 patients over 65 are hospitalized because of adverse reactions to their medication. As such, CMA once again recommends that Health Canada work to strengthen the capacity of its post-market surveillance system by ensuring that it includes:
a) Comprehensive processes for gathering drug safety and effectiveness data: Since most safety data reaches Health Canada in the form of spontaneous adverse drug reaction (ADR) reports, reporting processes should make it easier for physicians and other health professionals to report ADRs voluntarily, by making the reporting system user-friendly and easy to incorporate into a practitioner's busy schedule. Ideally, ADR reporting could be incorporated directly into the Electronic Medical Record (EMR) as this is developed. Spontaneous reports could be augmented with information gathered through other, more systematic means such as formal post-market studies.
b) A capacity for rigorous and timely data analysis to identify significant threats to drug safety: The monitoring and analysis that occurs once an adverse drug reaction (ADR) report has been received are critical elements of the post-surveillance system. Monitoring capacity requires rigorous data analysis that can sort "signal from noise" - in other words, sift through the reports, find the ones that indicate unusual events, investigate their cause, and isolate those that indicate a serious public health risk. It also requires that the analysis be timely: we note that in 2011 the Auditor General was particularly critical of Health Canada's post-market surveillance timeliness, noting that it could take several years for reports to be reviewed internally.
c) Communication of useful information to health care providers and the public: When new information is uncovered about a prescription drug, it is important that physicians and other health professionals are made aware of it as quickly and efficiently as possible. Therefore, post-approval surveillance requires a system for communicating timely, reliable and objective information to physicians and other health professionals, which they can absorb quickly and incorporate into their everyday practice. Ideally, this communication would report not the safety problem alone but also its implications for their patients and practice: for example, whether some patients are particularly at risk, or whether therapeutic alternatives are available.
The CMA supports the expanded ministerial authorities of recall proposed in Bill C-17, the Protecting Canadians from Unsafe Drugs Act, and the intent to address the short-comings of Canada's post-market surveillance system. We will be providing comments on this legislation in the near future.
4) Supporting Optimal Prescribing
In an ideal world, all patients would be prescribed the medications that have the most beneficial effect on their condition while doing the least possible harm. The CMA encourages collaborative efforts toward the achievement of this ideal.
For example, medication misuse among seniors is a major concern. According to a 2011 report from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), 62% of seniors on public drug programs use five or more drug classes, and nearly 30% of those 85 and older have claims for 10 or more prescription drugs. Heavy medication use by people over 65 has a number of consequences:
* The risk of adverse drug reactions is several-fold higher for older patients than for younger;
* Medication regimes, particularly for those taking several drugs a day on different dosage schedules, can be confusing and lead to errors or non-adherence; and,
* Patients may receive prescriptions from multiple providers who, if they have not been communicating with each other, may not know what other medications have been prescribed. This increases the risk of duplicate prescriptions, harmful drug interactions and other medication errors.
It is to address such concerns that the CMA developed its 2010 position statement: "A Prescription for Optimal Prescribing This statement recommends that governments at all levels work with prescribers, the public, industry and other stakeholders to develop and implement a nationwide strategy to encourage optimal prescribing and medication use.
This strategy should include, among other elements:
a) Provision of Relevant, Objective Information: The CMA supports the development and dissemination of information for prescribers that is based on the best available scientific evidence, relevant to clinical practice, and easy to incorporate into a practitioner's daily workflow.
At present, physicians receive much of their information from pharmaceutical manufacturers. Since manufacturers have generous budgets to support their information dissemination, their campaigns are impressive and effective; but their impartiality has frequently been called into question. Objective, evidence-based information to health professionals on prescription drugs and their uses could be disseminated in the following ways:
* Well-crafted online continuing medical education (CME), funded by objective sources.
* Academic detailing, in which teams of experts visit prescribers to provide impartial prescribing advice. Academic detailing programs have demonstrated success; but because they are expensive and labour intensive, it has often been difficult to persuade governments to invest in them.
* Making drug information available to prescribers at the point of care, through such means as mobile phone apps and electronic health records.
* Programs that monitor a prescriber's habits and compare them to those of peers. CMA encourages such programs if their purpose is to educate rather than to enforce a certain behaviour.
Information for prescribers should be augmented by unbiased, up-to-date, practical information for consumers about prescription drugs and their appropriate use.
b) Support e-prescribing. Electronic prescribing has the potential to dramatically improve drug therapy. For example an effective e-prescribing system could:
* List all the drugs a patient is taking, and identify duplicate prescriptions for the same drug from different providers, thus helping to reduce medication error and prescription fraud;
* Incorporate decision-support tools; for example, a warning could appear on the screen if a physician proposes to prescribe a drug that interacts harmfully with another the patient is already taking.
* Improve decision making and communication between providers, providing all of a patient's caregivers access to a common, comprehensive medication profile; and
* Increase convenience for the patient and eliminate illegible handwriting, which is a major cause of medication error.
The CMA recommends that governments, health care leadership and clinical organizations in all jurisdictions commit to make e-prescribing a reality by 2015, and ensure the policy/regulatory environment that supports e-prescribing.
5) Addressing gaps in insurance coverage for prescription medication
Finally, another consequence of the increased role of pharmaceuticals in health care is that, because they are not generally covered by the Canada Health Act, many Canadians, particularly those in the lowest income groups, are unable to afford them. Data from the 2007 Community Health Survey estimate that 1 in 10 Canadians does not adhere to their prescription regimes for reasons of cost.
The CMA recommends that governments, in consultation with the life and health insurance industry and the public, establish a program of comprehensive prescription drug coverage to be administered through reimbursement of provincial/territorial and private prescription drug plans to ensure that all Canadians have access to medically necessary drug therapies.
As previously mentioned, CMA has focussed its discussion of unintended consequences on recommendations to support public health, quality care, and patient safety.
The CMA commends the Committee for making this issue the subject of study, and hope that our recommendations, and those of other witnesses, will lead to action to address the unintended consequences of prescription pharmaceuticals in Canada.
Summary of Recommendations
1) The CMA recommends that the Senate Social Affairs, Science and Technology Committee extend its study on prescription pharmaceuticals to explore the root causes of shortages in the supply of prescription medication in Canada and strategies to mitigate the impacts on patients and patient care.
2) The CMA recommends that the federal government work with provincial/territorial governments and other stakeholders to develop and implement a comprehensive national strategy to address the problem of prescription drug misuse and abuse in Canada.
3) The CMA recommends that all levels of government work with one another and health professional regulatory agencies to develop a pan-Canadian system of real-time prescription drug abuse monitoring and surveillance.
4) The CMA recommends that Health Canada continue to improve the capacity of its post-approval surveillance system to:
* Make it easier for health professionals to submit voluntary ADR reports
* Analyze the data that has been gathered, in a rigorous and timely manner; and
* Communicate essential information to health care providers and the public in a timely and user-friendly manner.
5) The CMA recommends that governments at all levels work with prescribers, the public, industry and other stakeholders to develop and implement a nationwide strategy to encourage optimal prescribing and medication use.
6) The CMA supports the development and dissemination of prescribing information that is:
* based on the best available scientific evidence;
* relevant to clinical practice; and,
* easy to incorporate into a physician's workflow.
7) The CMA calls on governments to support and deliver funding for impartial continuing medical education programs on optimal prescribing.
8) The CMA recommends that governments, health care leadership and clinical organizations in all jurisdictions commit to make e-prescribing a reality by 2015, and ensure the policy/regulatory environment that supports e-prescribing.
9) The CMA recommends that governments, in consultation with the life and health insurance industry and the public, establish a program of comprehensive prescription drug coverage to be administered through reimbursement of provincial/territorial and private prescription drug plans to ensure that all Canadians have access to medically necessary drug therapies.