The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) brief submitted to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health makes 12 practical recommendations within the jurisdiction of the federal government for investing in the capacity needed to expand and retain our practising physician population. These recommendations are a clarion call for pan-Canadian planning and innovative thinking to meet an ever-increasing demand for physician services from the Canadian public. CMA's research on Health Care Transformation has shown that a commitment to ensuring an adequate supply of health human resources (HHR) is a common trait shared by high-performing European health systems. The last federal election campaign saw most political parties pledge to urgently address HHR shortages. Now is the time to keep those election commitments.
Cuts to medical school enrolment in the 1990s contributed to Canada's significant shortage of physicians. Growing demand for physician services, the aging of the physician population and changing practice styles among younger physicians are further compounding the problem. Seriously addressing HHR shortages is crucial to transforming Canada's health care system into one that is truly patient focused.
Canada should strive for self-sufficiency in physician supply and do more to repatriate Canadians studying and practising medicine abroad. The CMA supports bringing into practice qualified international medical graduates (IMGs) already in Canada. IMGs should be assessed according to the same evaluation standards as Canadian graduates and more should be done to reduce the backlog in assessing IMGs. With recent increases to medical school enrolment, more support must also be given for the capital infrastructure and faculty required to ensure the highest standard of medical education.
Competition for physicians is an issue with both international and inter-provincial/territorial facets. The revised Agreement on Internal Trade (AIT) and bilateral agreements will ease the movement of health professionals across jurisdictions, but may exacerbate retention difficulties in underserviced areas. Canada should be active in retaining and repatriating our health care professionals, particularly since the predicted physician shortage in the United States may result in a return to the physician out-migration seen in the 1990s.
Canada must do more to encourage innovation within our health care system. Collaborative care - including care delivered with the assistance of Physician Assistants (PAs) - and advances in information technology hold the promise of helping create a more efficient health care system that provides higher quality care.
Canada has suffered from a significant physician shortage since the mid-1990s. Nationally, we rank 26th of 30 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) member countries in physician-to-population ratio. We would need 20,000 new physicians just to meet the OECD average.
Figure 1: Physicians per 1000 population (including residents)
Source: OECD 2008 Health Data; CMA Physician Resources Evaluation Template
During the 2008 federal election campaign, four of the five parties represented in the House of Commons recognized the urgency of this situation and promised measures that would address HHR shortages. Following through on these promises is critical if we are to transform Canada's health care system into one that truly puts the needs of patients first. Research conducted for CMA's Health Care Transformation initiative demonstrates that European countries whose health care systems outperform our own all share a strong commitment to HHR, as demonstrated by their higher physician-to-population rankings.
First-year medical school enrolment was already in decline when health ministers imposed a further 10% cut resulting in a low of 1,577 places in 1997. While there have been substantial increases since then, it took a decade to rebound. In 2007, first-year enrolment stood at 2,569 - 63% higher than a decade earlier. If we had left our domestic production unchanged, we would have almost 1,300 more physicians than we have today.
Canada remains well behind other industrialized countries in the education and training of physicians. In 2005, Canada graduated 5.8 physicians per 100,000 population, 40% below the 9.6 average for the OECD.
Currently, between 4 and 5 million Canadians do not have a family physician. Over one-third of all Canadian physicians are over the age of 55. Many will either retire soon or reduce their practice workload. Most are not accepting new patients.
Ironically, advances in medicine and lifestyle that are helping Canadians live better and longer also mean increased demand for health care professionals. An aging population with high expectations of the health care system is increasing pressure on health care providers to ensure they maintain a high quality of life through their elder years. A growing culture of 'health consumerism,' facilitated by the Internet has resulted in a very knowledgeable patient population that expects top quality care delivered in a timely manner by the appropriate health professional.
Advances in medical diagnostics and technology, new and evolving diseases and increasingly complex protocols and guidelines for medical care all increase the demand for physician services. Declining mortality rates for patients with diseases such as cancer have increased treatment of what have become 'chronic' diseases. In a collaborative care setting, physicians often take responsibility for the most complex patients.
There is evidence of a cultural change among physicians to place greater importance on their home life by working less. This trend may have a positive effect on the health of the profession but it means Canada will need more physicians to provide the same volume of services.
Greater coordination among jurisdictions is needed to facilitate HHR planning on a national scale. Canada's doctors and other health professions are ready to assist policy-makers in their planning and coordination to better meet the health care needs of Canadians.
During the 2008 federal election campaign, most political parties recognized the urgency of addressing HHR shortages. The Conservative Party, specifically, promised to fund 50 new residency positions to increase supply of physicians in areas of priority need.
Recommendation 1: The federal government should fulfill its promise to fund 50 new residency positions at a cost of $10 million per year for four years.
Support for IMGs
The CMA fully supports bringing into practice qualified IMGs already in Canada. Canada has historically benefited from a steady flow of IMGs to our country. In fact, close to one quarter of all physicians in Canada and over 50% of doctors in Saskatchewan are IMGs. Many areas in Canada would have no physicians if not for the contribution of these practitioners.
While IMGs are a boon to Canada, actively recruiting from developing countries is not an acceptable solution to our physician shortage. Canada must strive for greater self-sufficiency in the education and training of physicians. In fact, self-sufficiency is a key principle of the government's Advisory Committee on Health Delivery and Human Resources' Framework for Collaborative Pan-Canadian Health Human Resources Planning.
CMA supports online assessment tools and websites that provide information to foreign-trained physicians so they know what standards they must meet once they arrive in Canada. In 2006, over 1700 people used the online assessment tool established by the Medical Council of Canada (MCC). CMA also supports applying the same evaluation standards to international graduates as it does to graduates of Canadian medical schools.
Despite a four-fold increase in the number of IMGs in ministry-funded postgraduate training programs over the last decade, there is still a backlog of IMGs awaiting entry into these programs. About 1300 IMGs applied for a postgraduate training position last year but only 350 (27%) were successful. CMA recommends that funding be made available to provinces for use in mentoring IMGs towards licensure. This could lower costs for the IMGs, pay the community preceptors, cover operational costs and defray other expenses.
It is estimated that up to 1500 Canadians are studying medicine abroad. Two-thirds of these IMGs want to come home to complete their postgraduate training. Canada turns away four good applicants for every student accepted into medical school. Increased training opportunities for all groups of IMGs will ensure that Canada fully utilizes the skills and knowledge of its citizens who have studied medicine.
Recommendation 2: The federal government should make $5 million (over five years), available to provinces/territories to address the backlog of IMGs through community preceptorship programs that mentor and assess IMGs for integration into the physician community.
Recommendation 3: The federal government should take concrete steps to ensure Canada becomes self-sufficient when it comes to the supply of health care professionals.
Recommendation 4: The federal government should continue to fund information tools such as the IMG-Canada website to better inform offshore physicians.
Infrastructure and faculty
Canada's teaching centres have had to absorb increases in operational and infrastructure costs to accommodate increased enrolment. This includes instructors, space, overhead and supplies. While it appears that the number of faculty members has kept pace with the increased number of medical students, part-time faculty now make up a much larger proportion of the total than 10 years ago. i
In addition to the traditional academic centres, much of the training of doctors now occurs in a community environment. Mentoring is provided by physicians who may have less experience or resources than do those in the larger centres. Those who teach often experience lost productivity in their practice and receive little or no remuneration. This deficiency must be addressed to achieve a sustainable educational workforce.
Recommendation 5: The federal government should implement a Health Human Resources Infrastructure Fund in the amount of $1 billion over 5 years to expand health professional education and training capacity by providing funding to support the:
* Direct costs of training providers;
* Indirect or infrastructure costs associated with the educational enterprise; and
* Resources that improve Canada's data collection and management capacity in the area of health human resources.
B. Retention of Canadian Physicians
Competition for physicians is both an international and an inter-jurisdictional challenge. The new Agreement on Internal Trade within Canada and numerous bilateral agreements will no doubt ease the movement of health professionals. This may exacerbate the already difficult task of retaining physicians in underserviced areas. On the positive side, it is hoped this will facilitate the movement of physicians who provide short-term relief for physicians needing time off for continued professional development and vacation (i.e., locum tenens).
As the political situation and health care plans evolve south of our border, Canada should remain active in the quest to retain the health professionals we have educated and trained and make it easier for those who have emigrated to return to practice in Canada. The Conservative Party committed in the 2008 election campaign to create a repatriation fund for Canadian physicians practising abroad. The federal government should keep this important commitment.
Migration to the United States peaked in the late 1990s when Canada lost between 600 and 700 physicians per year. While some physicians returned to Canada each year, our net losses for this period were over 400 per year. Today we are enjoying small net gains each year but this may not last given the predicted shortages in the U.S. of between 80,000 and 100,000 physicians in the years ahead. We can expect U.S. recruiters to ramp up activities in Canada in the near future.
Recommendation 6: The federal government should fulfill its election promise to establish a fund of $5 million per year over four years to help Canadian physicians living abroad who wish to relocate to Canada. It is thought this initiative could bring back as many as 300 Canadian physicians over four years.
Recommendation 7: The federal government should establish a Health Professional Repatriation Program in the amount of $30 million over 3 years that would include the following:
* A secretariat within Health Canada that would include a clearinghouse function on issues associated with health care workers returning to practise in Canada.
* An ad campaign in the United States.
* A program of one-time relocation grants for returning health professionals.
Physician Health and Well Being
Ultimately, we hope that healthier physicians will create a more vibrant profession. Hopefully these healthier physicians will in turn create a more healthful professional environment that will support their ability to provide patient care of the highest quality.
Through programs and conferences, the CMA has contributed to growing efforts to reduce the stigma surrounding physician ill-health and to support a new, healthier culture for the profession. Given the myriad other issues that contribute to our doctor shortage, it is clear that Canada cannot afford to lose a single physician to ill health.
Our research shows that the most stressful aspect of the medical profession is being on call after hours. Physicians average 50 hours a week in the usual settings of office, hospital or clinic but then 70% are on call for another 30 hours per week. In small communities, physicians are often on call all the time. A quarter of all physicians face some form of mental health challenge that makes their work difficult. This is higher than the 1 in 5 Canadians that will face a mental illness over their lifetime.ii
The ongoing pressures experienced by overworked physicians can result in stress related disorders and burn-out and are frequently a precursor to more significant physical and mental health problems. If not addressed early, these conditions can lead to physicians taking prolonged periods of time off work, changing their practice patterns or leaving the practice of medicine altogether.
Prevention programs are the key to assisting physicians before they are at significant risk. The CMA visited such a program in Norway which has been shown to significantly reduce burn-out and reduce the subsequent time-off work related to stressiii. A program to enhance physician resiliency and prevent stress related disorders, based on the Norway model, could be expanded to include services for all health professionals. The potential impact would be improved provider health and morale, reduced sick days and fewer long-term leaves.
Recommendation 8: The federal government should invest in research directed at assessing the quality of work life among health workers through an interprofessional survey at a cost of $1.5 million.
Recommendation 9: The federal government should explore the feasibility of developing a 'made in Canada' Resiliency Program for Health Professionals that would include the development of a feasibility study, including a business case, and a pilot curriculum, at a cost of $500,000.
While Canada must do more to increase both our supply and retention of HHR, we must also encourage innovation within our health care system to make better use of our existing health resources. Collaborative models of interprofessional care and advances in information technology hold the promise of helping create a more efficient health care system that provides higher quality care.
Increasingly physicians are working in interprofessional teams that may include professions that are relatively new to Canada's health workforce such as physician assistants (PAs). The CMA accredits PA curricula and has held two conferences to promote the use of PAs in all levels of care.
Recommendation 10: The federal government should fund a study to evaluate the impact of physician assistants on access to health care and to determine their cost effectiveness relative to other providers at cost of $150,000.
Technology to Support Health Care Delivery
Information technology will continue to create a more efficient and effective health care system. It will lead to more patient safety, more Canadians finding a physician, better care, cost avoidance such as eliminating duplicate tests and the establishment of collaborative interprofessional health care teams.
Canada's adoption of electronic medical records lags behind other OECD countries. We only spend a third of the OECD average on information technology in our hospitals. The adoption of EMRs in community settings (primary care, home care and long-term care facilities) also trails most other countries (Figure 2iv). This is not due to any general resistance by providers, but rather a combination of: a lack of evidence on how best to use electronic records to improve care delivery; a need to improve the return on investment for physicians by providing value-added solutions such as greater connectivity to lab results, drug data and colleagues; the time it takes to implement a new electronic record capability and a lack of funds to acquire new technology.
Recent investments in Canada Health Infoway (CHI) will help address some of these issues but it is estimated that for Canada to have a fully automated health care delivery system we need to invest $ 10 to $12 billionv. An overall investment of $2 billion is required to fully IT enable the community-based health care delivery sector. While Budget 2009 provided $500 million to CHI for EMRs, more is still required.
Recommendation 11: The federal government should provide a further investment of $500 million for new technology to fully enable all points of care in the community settings and an enhanced change management program to speed up EMR adoption.
Recommendation 12: The federal government should create a $10-million fund to establish an applied research program for the next five years that will provide evidence on how best to integrate information technology into the health care delivery system.
Canada's doctors believe that we can build a health care system where all Canadians can get timely access to quality health care services regardless of their ability to pay. Developing a comprehensive HHR strategy that assures an adequate supply of all health care providers, including physicians, is a pillar of achieving timely access to high quality care. Building such a system requires that we shift our attitude and move to implement new strategies, new ideas and new thinking. That new thinking must begin with a commitment to act now to address Canada's physician shortage. A promise made must be a promise fulfilled.
i Canada's Health Care Providers 2007, Ottawa: CIHI, 2007
ii Frank E. Canadian physicians healthy - national survey finds. A report from the 2008 International Conference on Physician Health. London, UK Nov 2008.
iii Isaksson Ro, K et al. Counselling for burnout in Norwegian doctors : One year cohort study. BMJ. November 2008. Vol 337, 1146-9.
iv * Count of 14: EMR, EMR access other doctors, outside office, patient; routine use electronic ordering tests, prescriptions, access test results, access hospital records; computer for reminders, Rx alerts, prompt test results; easy to list diagnosis; medications, patients due for care.
v Vision 2015 - Advancing Canada's Next Generation of Healthcare, Canada Health Infoway, 2008
As signs of economic recovery begin to emerge, both in Canada and globally, the Canadian Medical Association is pleased to put forward three recommendations that will initiate a needed transformation of our health care system so that it is truly patient focused and sustainable. Additionally, these measures will create 17,000 jobs and solidify Canada's health care competitive advantage. Although related to the health care sector, these recommendations are within the context of ensuring a prosperous, and sustainable economic, social and environmental future for Canada in the short, medium and long-term. Each of these three recommendations also takes into account the finance committee's questions:
1. What federal tax and program spending measures are needed to ensure prosperity and a sustainable future for Canadians from an economic, social and/or environmental perspective?
2. What federal stimulus measures have been effective and how might relatively ineffective measures be changed to ensure that they have the intended effects?
CMA research demonstrates that it is possible to maintain a universally accessible health care system without long waits for care. In 2007 alone, waiting for care in just four clinical areas cost the Canadian economy $14.8 billion. In particular, two areas require federal attention:
1. ENHANCING PATIENT ACCESS ACROSS THE CONTINUUM OF CARE
Continuing care (ie. long-term care and home care) and prescription drug coverage need urgent attention. Many Canadians do not have access to as wide a range of insured care as citizens in other highly industrialized countries.
Recommendation 1: The federal government should expand the Building Canada Plan to include 'shovel-ready' health facility construction projects including ambulatory, acute and continuing care facilities. Cost: $1.5 billion over 2 years
2. HELPING PROVIDERS HELP PATIENTS
a. Accelerating physician EMR adoption: Both national and international studies confirm that
Canada lags behind nearly every major industrialized country when it comes to health information technology. Accelerating physician EMR adoption will reduce wait times, improve quality, and improve financial accountability especially of federal dollars. Budget 2009 proposed $500 million in additional funding to Canada Health Infoway and a temporary, accelerated capital cost allowance for computer hardware. Transfer of these funds to Infoway is imperative. Together, transferring the funding to Infoway and further improving of the capital cost allowance will ensure these initiatives have the intended effects of improving EMR adoption and stimulating the economy.
b. Boosting Health Human Resources: Canada does not have enough physicians, nurses, technicians or other health care professionals to provide the care patients need. Addressing HHR shortages is critical to ensuring sustainable, accessible, responsive and high-quality health care.
Recommendation 2: The federal government should expand the 2-year time-limited accelerated Capital Cost Allowance for hardware costs related to health information technologies by extending it to five years; removing the 50% half-year rule on related software; and including electronic tools involved in connecting patient records from physician offices to laboratories and hospitals. Cost: $50 million over four years.
Recommendation 3: The federal government should fulfill its 2008 election promise, beginning in 2010, of investing $65 million in health human resources over four years to fund 50 new residencies per year; repatriate Canadian physicians living abroad; and launch pilot projects with nursing organizations to promote recruitment and retention.
1. INTRODUCTION - HEALTHY ECONOMICS: THE FOUNDATION OF FUTURE PROSPERITY
The CMA believes that by being innovative in its actions Canada can sustain a publicly funded, universal health care system. In fact, doing so provides Canadian industry with a significant competitive advantage in the global marketplace. Despite having one of the richest health care programs in the industrialized world (eighth among 28 Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development [OECD] countries), international benchmarking studies consistently report that the Canadian program is not performing as well as it should. The Euro-Canada Health Consumer Index ranked Canada 30th out of 30 countries in terms of value for money spent on health care in both 2008 and 2009.The CMA's recent review of several European health systems illustrates that a sustainable, patient-centred approach to health care is possible on a system-wide level without compromising founding principles such as universality, and without causing financial difficulty for the country or its citizens. However, getting there will require transformational change to refocus our system.
The Canadian Medical Association's 2010 pre-budget submission puts forward three recommendations in the areas of health care infrastructure, health human resources (HHR) and electronic medical records (EMRs).1 These three affordable, strategic initiatives fall within the jurisdiction of the federal government and recognize both the ongoing and promising economic recovery and the current fiscal capacity of the federal government. CMA's recommendations help to chart a course toward a prosperous, and sustainable economic, social and environmental future for Canada in the short, medium and long terms. These proposals will kickstart a transformation of the health care system and create over 17,000 jobs that will ensure a competitive economic foundation for the future.
Based on CMA's research, transforming Canada's health care system to better meet the needs of Canadians hinges on five directions for a reorientation of the system:
1. Building a culture of patient-centred care;
2. Incentives for enhancing access and improving quality of care;
3. Enhancing patient access across the continuum of care;
4. Helping providers help patients;
5. Building accountability/responsibility at all levels.
While each of the five directions is important to reorienting the system, points 3 and 4 are directly relevant to the Finance Committee's deliberations.
2. ENHANCING PATIENT ACCESS ACROSS THE CONTINUUM OF CARE
While all elements of the continuum of care are important, the CMA believes that continuing care (long-term care and home care) and prescription drug coverage need urgent attention. Many Canadians do not have access to as wide a range of insured care as citizens in other highly industrialized countries. In fact, many of these other industrialized countries count access to prescription drugs and home care/long-term care among their basic insured services.
a. Continuing care: Augmenting the Building Canada Plan to include health care infrastructure
Recommendation 1: The federal government should expand the Building Canadai Plan to include 'shovel-ready' health facility construction projects including ambulatory, acute and continuing care facilities. Cost: $1.5 billion over two years
Continuing care in Canada faces three key challenges: capacity and access; informal caregiver support and long-term care funding. At 91%, Canada has the highest hospital occupancy rate in the OECD.ii Roughly 25-30% of hospital acute care beds are occupied by patients who do not require hospital or medical care but rather need 24-hour supervised care. Scarce long-term care facilities and home-care services dictate that patients remain in hospital, delaying hospitals from performing elective surgeries and restricting the movement of other patients from the emergency room to acute care wards. Much of the burden of continuing care falls on informal (unpaid) caregivers who need to be better supported. Statistics Canada reported that in 2007 about 2.7 million Canadians aged 45 and over, or approximately one-fifth of the total in this age group, provided some form of unpaid care to seniors (people 65 years of age or older) who had long-term health problems iiiIt seems unlikely that future requirements for long-term care can be funded on the same "pay-as-you-go" basis as other health expenditures.
The seven-year, $33-billion Building Canada Plan announced in Budget 2007 and augmented in Budget 2009, could better support a smart economic recovery and the health needs of Canadians if it were to be expanded to include health facility construction.iv Federal investment in hospital and health facility construction will create 16,500 jobs over a two-year period and 11,000 jobs in 2010 alone. (Appendix: Table 1).
Although CMA's $1.5 billion recommendation does not eliminate the entire health-facility infrastructure gap in Canada, estimated at over $20 billionv, it does provide additional stimulus aimed at shovel-ready projects. It also better prepares our health system to deal with the needs of an aging population. Federal government investment in health infrastructure has two important precedents - the first in 1948 (Hospital Construction Grants Program) and the second in 1966 (Health Resources Fund Act). Infrastructure funding should be directed toward projects that deliver long-term value and enhance Canadians' lives.
b. Prescription drugs: 3.5 million Canadians underinsured
Prescription drugs represent the fastest growing item in the health budget, and the second largest category of health expenditure. More than 3.5 million Canadians have no prescription drug coverage or are underinsured against high prescription drug costs. In 2006 almost one in 10 (8%) of Canadian households spent more than 3% of their after-tax income on prescription drugs; and almost one in 25 (3.8%) spent more than 5%. It is estimated that less than one-half of prescription drug costs were publicly paid for in 2008. Canada must strive for a program of comprehensive pharmaceutical coverage that is universal and effectively pools risks across individuals and public and private plans throughout Canada.
3. HELPING PROVIDERS HELP PATIENTS
Canada's health care workforce needs more people and more tools to care for Canadians.
a. Accelerating physician EMR adoption
Recommendation 2: The federal government should expand the 2-year, time-limited accelerated Capital Cost Allowance for hardware costs related to health information technologies by extending it to 5-years; removing the 50% half-year rule on related software; and including electronic tools involved in connecting patient records from physician offices to laboratories and hospitals. Cost: $50 million over four years.
Both national and international studies confirm that Canada lags behind nearly every major industrialized country when it comes to health information technology (see Figure 1 and Figure 22). The impact of this underinvestment is longer wait times, reduced quality, and a severe lack of financial accountability, especially of federal dollars.
The Conference Board of Canadavi, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) vii, the World Health Organizationviii, the Commonwealth Fundix, and the Frontier Centre for Public Policyx all rate Canada's health care system poorly in terms of "value for money" as well as efficiency.
The CMA applauds the temporary 100% Capital Cost Allowance (CCA) rate for computer hardware and systems software acquired after January 27, 2009 and before February 1, 2011 that was proposed in Budget 2009. The measure will provide stimulus by helping businesses to increase or accelerate investment in computers. It will also help boost Canada's productivity through the faster adoption of newer technology. However, for this initiative to provide the greatest benefit, the 100% CCA rate should be extended to five years and expanded to include related EMR software. The benefits of EMR investments are clear. International strategy and technology consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton found the benefits of an interconnected Electronic Health Record (EHR) in Canada could save the health system $6.1 billionxi a year.
The CMA's recommendation of delivering incentives through the tax system to adopt EMRs is a bottom-up approach that has gained widespread support. John Halamka, the chief information officer at Harvard Medical School, thinks that reformers need to take a bottom-up approach and listen to both doctors and patients. Studies showxiithat most of the benefits of EMRs flow to the payer. Incentives for hardware, software and as importantly the time that it takes to implement these e-systems must be taken into account and incented. The urgency for e-health is being recognized in the United States and needs to be in Canada.
Beyond tax incentives, Budget 2009 also provided Canada Health Infoway (Infoway) with $500 million to support the goal of having 50 % of Canadians with an electronic health record by 2010. As of March 31, 2009, Infoway and its partners had put in place an electronic health record for 17% of the population. Budget 2009 funding will allow Infoway to extend EHRs to 38% of the population by March 31, 2010. xiii This investment will not only enhance the safety, quality and efficiency of the health care system, but will also result in a significant positive contribution to Canada's economy, including the creation of thousands of sustainable, knowledge-based jobs throughout Canadaxiv. Infoway has not yet received this funding and the CMA strongly encourages the federal government to transfer the funds promised in Budget 2009 as soon as possible.
b. Boosting Health Human Resources
Recommendation 3: The federal government should fulfill its 2008 election promisexv, beginning in 2010, of investing $65 million in health human resources over four years to fund 50 new residencies per year; repatriate Canadian physicians living abroad; and launch pilot projects with nursing organizations to promote recruitment and retention.
Canada does not have enough physicians, nurses, technicians or other health care professionals to provide the care patients need. Addressing health workforce shortages is critical to ensuring sustainable, accessible, responsive and high-quality health care across the nation. Canada has suffered from a significant physician shortage since the mid-1990s. Nationally, we rank 26th of 30 OECD member countries in physician-to-population ratio (see Figure 3). The lack of physicians in Canada puts the system under pressure and the impact of this is being felt by patients across the country. Currently, approximately five million Canadians do not have a family physician. In 2008, a study commissioned by the CMA found that the Canadian economy lost $14.8 billion as a result of excessive wait times for just four procedures: joint replacements, MRIs, coronary artery bypass surgery and cataract surgery.
As health care reform plans evolve south of our border, Canada should be proactive in order to retain the health professionals we have educated and trained and make it easier for those who have emigrated to return to practice in Canada. In the 2008 federal election, most parties recognized the urgency of HHR shortages and committed to address the situation. The Conservative Party committed to fund additional medical residency positions, create a repatriation fund for Canadian physicians practising abroad and fund nursing recruitment and retention pilot projects. It is thought this repatriation program could bring back as many as 300 Canadian physicians over four years. The federal government should keep this important commitment. Migration to the United States peaked in the late 1990s when Canada lost between 600 and 700 physicians per year. While some physicians returned to Canada each year, our net losses for this period were over 400 per year. Today we are enjoying small net annual gains but this may not last. With predicted shortages in the U.S. of between 80,000 and 100,000 physicians in the years ahead, we can expect U.S. recruiters to ramp up activities in Canada soon.
The emerging economic recovery offers an excellent opportunity for the federal government to create a more patient-focused and sustainable health care system. Enhancing patient access across the continuum of care by bolstering the Building Canada infrastructure plan and helping providers help patients by enhancing EMR tax incentives and addressing health workforce shortages are important first steps in transforming our health care system. Looking ahead, it will be important to continue to honour the financial transfers of the 2004 Health Care Accord, including the annual 6% escalator, through to 2014. Past cuts to health care funding at all levels have had significant negative effects that continue to be felt to this day. Now is the time to begin thinking ahead to the fiscal needs of the health care system in the post-2014 era.
Appendix Table 1
[For correct dispaly of table information, see PDF]
1 A full schedule of the recommended federal investments as well as their job creation potential is included at the end of the document in the Appendix, Table 1.
2 14 functions are: EMR, EMR access, access other doctors, outside office, patient: routine use, electronic ordering tests, prescriptions, access test results, access hospital records, computer for reminders, Rx alerts, prompt test results; easy to list diagnosis, medications, patients due for care.
i Building Canada Plan., Announced in Budget 2007, the seven-year, $33-billion Building Canada plan consists of a suite of programs to meet the varying needs of infrastructure projects across Canada.
See page 142 of the 2009 Federal Budget. www.budget.gc.ca/2009/pdf/budget-planbugetaire-eng.pdf
ii Hospital Occupancy Rates. Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development [OECD] (2008). OECD Health.
Data 2007. Version 07/18/2007. CD-ROM. Paris: OECD.
iii.Cranswick, Kelly, Donna Dosman. "Eldercare: What we Know Today" Canadian Social Trends.No. 86. Statistics Canada
iv Building Canada Plan, Federal Budget 2009 page 142. .
v This estimate is based on survey work in a forthcoming publication commissioned by the Association of Canadian Academic Healthcare Organizations.
vi How Canada Performs 2008: A Report Card on Canada, The Conference Board of Canada
vii Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development [OECD] (2007). OECD Health
Data 2007. Version 07/18/2007. CD-ROM. Paris: OECD.
viii World Health Organization [WHO] (2007). World Health Statistics 2007. see: http://www.who.
ix Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: An International Update on the Comparative Performance of American Health Care May 15, 2007 (updated May 16, 2007)
Authors: Karen Davis, Ph.D., Cathy Schoen, M.S., Stephen C. Schoenbaum, M.D., M.P.H., Michelle M. Doty, Ph.D., M.P.H., Alyssa L. Holmgren, M.P.A., Jennifer L. Kriss, and Katherine K. Shea
Editor(s):Deborah Lorber see: www.commonwealthfund.org/publications/publications_show.htm?doc_id=482678
x Euro-Canada Health Consumer Index 2008, Health Consumer Powerhouse, Frontier Centre for Public Policy, FC Policy Series No. 38 see:www.fcpp.org/pdf/ECHCI2008finalJanuary202008.pdf
xi Booz, Allan, Hamilton Study, Pan-Canadian Electronic Health Record, Canada's Health Infoway's 10-Year Investment Strategy, March 2005-09-06.
xii Although the savings would accrue to different stakeholders, in the long run they should accrue to payers. If we allocate the savings using the current level of spending from the National Health Accounts (kept by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services), Medicare would receive about $23 billion of the potential savings per year, and private payers would receive $31 billion per year. Thus, both have a strong incentive to encourage the adoption of EMR systems. Providers face limited incentives to purchase EMRs because their investment typically translates into revenue losses for them and health care spending savings for payers. From: Can Electronic Medical Record Systems Transform Health Care? Potential Health Benefits, Savings, And Costs, by Richard Hillestad, James Bigelow, Anthony Bower, Federico Girosi, Robin Meili, Richard Scoville and Roger Taylor, Health Affairs, 24, no. 5 (2005): 1103-1117
xiii Corporate Business Plan 2009/2010, Canada Health Infoway, "Anticipated Progress to March 31, 2010" page 7 see:www2.infoway-inforoute.ca/Documents/bp/Business_Plan_2009-2010_en.pdf
xiv Federal Budget 2009 page 152. see: www.budget.gc.ca/2009/pdf/budget-planbugetaire-eng.pdf
xv Health Care Certainty for Canadian Families, the Conservative Party of Canada, backgrounder 10/08/08.
The public health system in Canada lies at the heart of our community values. It is the quintessential “public good” and is central to the continued good health of our population. When the public health system is working well, few are even aware that it is at work! Only when something goes terribly wrong — like the Walkerton tragedy or when we are faced with a new threat like SARS — is the integral, ongoing role of public health really recognized.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) has been warning that our public health system is stretched to capacity in dealing with everyday demands, let alone responding to the latest crises. Canada’s physicians have repeatedly called for governments to enhance public health capacity and strengthen the public health infrastructure throughout Canada.
Our public health system is the first — and often the only — line of defence against emerging and ongoing infectious and noninfectious threats to the health of Canadians. But we are only as strong as the weakest link in the emergency response chain of survival. As most health threats know no boundaries, our public health armaments must be in a constant state of “battle readiness.” In today’s climate of SARS, West Nile Virus, mad cow disease and monkey pox, even the thought that the public health system may be stretched beyond capacity strikes fear into the hearts of Canadians.
Physicians have always been an integral part of the public health system serving as medical officers of health, community health specialists and other related roles. Indeed public health cannot successfully fulfill its mandate without the cooperation and commitment of front-line clinicians.
In this submission, we reflect on the lessons to be learned from our recent experience with SARS and reflect on the longer-term needs of the public health system as a whole. The objectives of the pan-Canadian Public Health Action Plan proposed by the CMA are, first to realize a clearer alignment of authority and accountability in times of extraordinary health emergencies; and, second, to enhance the system’s capacity to respond to public health threats across the country (see recommendations, below, and Appendix 1).
To achieve these twin objectives, three broad strategies are presented for immediate attention. They are legislative reform; capacity enhancement; and research, surveillance and communications.
Legislative reform (see recommendations 1–3)
The country’s response to SARS has brought into stark relief the urgent need for national leadership and coordination of public health activity across the country, especially during a health crisis. The apparent reluctance to act quickly to institute screening at airports, the delay in unifying the practice community for a concerted response and the appalling communications confusion worked against optimum handling of the outbreak — despite the best efforts of health care professionals.
This is a wake-up call that highlights the need for comprehensive legislative reform to clarify the roles of governments with respect to the management of public health threats. A renewed and enhanced national commitment to public health should be anchored in new federal legislation to be negotiated with the provinces and territories.
Specifically, the CMA recommends an Emergency Health Measures Act, to deal with emergent situations in tandem with the creation of a Canadian public health agency headed by a Chief Public Health Officer of Canada.
Capacity enhancement (see recommendations 4–7)
The SARS crisis has demonstrated the diminished capacity within the public health system. The Greater Toronto Area (GTA), with one of Canada’s most sophisticated public and acute health systems, has not been able to manage the SARS crisis adequately and carry on other health programs. The acute care system virtually ground to a halt in dealing with SARS. There was little or no surge capacity in Canada’s largest city. We should be grateful that SARS did not first strike a smaller centre in a far less-advantaged region of Canada.
A critical element of the public health system is its workforce and the health professionals within the acute care system, such as hospital-based infectious disease specialists and emergency physicians who are the front-line interface. Let there be no doubt that the ongoing efforts of the GTA front-line providers are nothing short of heroic. However, the lack of coordinated contingency planning of hospital and community-based disease control efforts was striking. The overall shortage of critical care professionals and the inability of governments to quickly deploy the required professionals to areas of need contributed to the enormous strain on the public and health care system.
Considering the importance of the public health system and its clearly limited capacity to protect and promote the health of Canadians, it is incomprehensible that we do not know how much is actually spent on the system. It is imperative that public health expenditures and capacity, in terms of both physical and human resources, be tracked and reported publicly.
The CMA recommends a $1-billion, 5-year capacity-enhancement program to be coordinated with and through the new Canadian public health agency.
Research, surveillance and communications (see recommendations 8–10)
Canada’s ability to respond to public health threats and acute events, such as SARS, and to maintain its effective public health planning and program development depends on sound research, surveillance and rapid, real-time communications.
A concerted pan-Canadian effort is required to take full advantage of our capacity for interdisciplinary research on public health, including infectious disease prevention and control measures. New-millennium challenges require moving beyond old-millennium responses. Enhanced surveillance is an overdue and integral part of public health, performing an essential function in early detection and response to threats of infectious diseases. Mandatory national reporting of identified diseases by all provinces and territories is critical for national and international surveillance.
During times of crisis, rapid communication to the public, public health staff and front-line clinicians is of critical importance, but in many jurisdictions impossible. We tested our systems during the SARS outbreak and they came up short.
The CMA recommends a one-time federal investment to enhance technical capacity to allow for real-time communication.
The CMA believes that its proposed three-pronged strategy, as set out in the attached recommendations, will go a long way toward addressing shortfalls of the Canadian public health system. Action now will help to ensure that Canadians can once again be confident that they are protected from any future threat of new infectious diseases. Action now will help Canada regain its position as a leader in public health.
We wish the advisory committee well in its deliberations and offer the CMA’s assistance at any time in clarifying the strategies set out in our submission.
Recommendations to the National Advisory Committee on SARS and Public Health
Legislative reform ($20 million / 5 years*)
1. The enactment of a Canada Emergency Health Measures Act that would consolidate and enhance existing legislation, allowing for a more rapid national response, in cooperation with the provinces and territories, based on a graduated, systematic approach, to health emergencies that pose an acute and imminent threat to human health and safety across Canada.
2. The creation of a Canadian Office for Disease Surveillance and Control (CODSC) as the lead Canadian agency in public health, operating at arm’s length from government.
3. The appointment of a Chief Public Health Officer of Canada to act as the lead scientific voice for public health in Canada; to head the Canadian Office for Disease Surveillance and Control; and to work with provinces and territories to develop and implement a pan-Canadian public health action plan.
Capacity enhancement ( $1.2 billion / 5 years*)
4. The creation of a Canadian Centre of Excellence for Public Health, under the auspices of the CODSC, to invest in multidisciplinary training programs in public health, establish and disseminate best practices among public health professionals.
5. The establishment of a Canadian Public Health Emergency Response Service, under the auspices of the CODSC, to provide for the rapid deployment of human resources (e.g., emergency pan-Canadian locum programs) during health emergencies.
6. Tracking and public reporting of public health expenditures and capacity (both physical and human resources) by the Canadian Institute for Health Information and Statistics Canada, on behalf of the proposed Canadian Office for Disease Surveillance and Control.
7. Federal government funding in the amount of $1 Billion over 5 years to build adequate and consistent surge capacity across Canada and improve coordination among federal, provincial/territorial and municipal authorities to fulfill essential public health functions.
Research, surveillance and communications ($310 million / 5 years*)
8. An immediate, sequestered grant of $200 million over 5 years to the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to initiate an enhanced conjoint program of research with the Institute of Population and Public Health and the Institute of Infection and Immunity that will expand capacity for interdisciplinary research on public health, including infectious disease prevention and control measures.
9. The mandatory reporting by provinces and territories of identified infectious diseases to the newly established Chief Public Health Officer of Canada to enable appropriate communications, analyses and intervention.
10. The one-time infusion of $100 million, with an additional $2 million a year, for a “REAL” (rapid, effective, accessible and linked) Health Communication and Coordination Initiative to improve technical capacity to communicate with front line public health providers in real time during health emergencies.
*See Appendix 2: Estimated cost of implementing recommendations.
The CMA prepared this submission in response to an invitation from Dr. Naylor to provide input to the National Advisory Committee on SARS and Public Health.
We applaud this initiative and welcome the opportunity to present the views of Canada’s medical community to the committee. The CMA’s basic message is that our health protection laws are woefully outdated and the public health system is stretched beyond capacity. This submission draws on our long history of engagement in public health in Canada and our experience both post-September 11, 2001 and with SARS. It builds on the knowledge and experience of our members, national specialist affiliated societies and provincial and territorial divisions. (We acknowledge, in particular, the outstanding efforts of the Ontario Medical Association and the Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians in battling SARS.)
In this submission, we examine the lessons to be learned from our experience with the SARS outbreak and reflect on both the immediate and longer-term needs of the public health system as a whole. The objectives of the public health action plan proposed by the CMA are, first, to realize a clearer alignment of authority and accountability in times of extraordinary health emergencies and, second, to enhance the system’s capacity to respond to public health threats across the country, including those posed by preventable chronic disease.
The public health system in Canada lies at the heart of our community values. It is the quintessential “public good” and is central to the continued good health of the population. When the public health system is working well, few are even aware that it is at work! Only when something goes terribly wrong — like the contamination of the blood supply in the 1980s, the Walkerton tragedy or SARS — is the integral, ongoing role of public health recognized.
Our public health system is the first — and often the only — line of defence against emerging and ongoing infectious and noninfectious threats to the health of Canadians. But we are only as strong as the weakest link in the emergency response chain of survival. As most health threats know no boundaries, our public health system must be in a constant state of “battle readiness.” We can ill afford any weakness in our public health preparedness. In today’s climate of SARS, West Nile Virus, mad cow disease and monkey pox, the mere thought that the public health system may be stretched beyond capacity strikes fear into the hearts of Canadians.
Physicians have always been an integral part of the public health system serving as medical officers of health, specialists in infectious disease and community medicine (who will not remember the stalwart efforts of Dr. Donald Low on SARS?) and in other related roles. Indeed, public health cannot successfully fulfill its mandate without the cooperation and commitment of front-line clinicians.
The CMA has been warning for some time that our system is stretched to capacity in dealing with everyday demands, let alone responding to crises. Canada’s physicians have repeatedly called for governments to enhance public health capacity and strengthen the public health infrastructure throughout Canada. For example, the CMA’s submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance’s prebudget consultations on October 22, 2001 called for substantial investments in public health and emergency response as a first step to improve the public health system infrastructure and its surge capacity.
This submission not only reiterates our previous recommendations, but also outlines specific actions that the CMA believes must be taken to ensure a strong public health system in Canada.
The Enduring Impact of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome
SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome): in February 2003, these four letters sent massive shock waves around the world, causing widespread fear and confusion among health care officials and citizens of many countries. The “fear factor” extended across Canada as people realized the full threat of SARS.
Since SARS was first identified in a patient in Toronto in March 2003, 438 probable or suspected cases have been reported to Health Canada and 38 people have died (as of June 23, 2003). However, these numbers do not reflect the full impact of the outbreak. The number of indirect deaths due to system shutdown will never be known.
Local public health authorities across the country went on high alert. Those in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) as well as their provincial counterparts diverted almost all of their resources to respond to the crisis.
Acute care services were adversely affected as stringent infection-control and screening measures were put into place to control the spread of SARS. In the GTA, the health system — acute and public — was brought to its knees. Over half of the reported SARS cases involved front-line providers as the outbreak largely affected health care settings. Approximately 20 physicians in Ontario contracted SARS and close to 1000 were quarantined. Thousands of nurses and other health care workers also faced quarantine, some more than once.
Institutions closed their doors, limiting access to emergency departments, clinics and physicians’ offices. Intensive care units were full and surgeries were cancelled. Front-line health care professionals involved in critical care were stretched to their physical and mental limits. Others found themselves underutilized due to the impact of the infection-control measures on their practice settings. Feast and famine co-existed.
Although the outbreak was mainly confined to health care settings, the entire GTA felt the effects. Upwards of 20,000 people entered voluntary quarantine. Businesses were affected. The tourism industry is still reeling. The disruption that SARS caused continues to reverberate through health care systems and economies.
In response to urgent requests from both the Ontario Medical Association and Health Canada, the CMA mobilized its membership and assisted in the country’s response to SARS. Everything that could be done was done to facilitate bringing in qualified personnel to relieve those on the front line and make appropriate information available in real time. The CMA has learned its own lessons, both positive and negative. A full chronology of CMA activity is attached as Appendix 3.
It has become abundantly clear that Canada’s public health system was ill prepared to deal with the SARS outbreak. If not for the heroic efforts of public health officials, health care providers and research scientists, Canada’s experience would have been much worse.
Public health in Canada
Public health is the science and art of protecting and promoting health, preventing disease and injury, and prolonging life. It complements the health care system, which focuses primarily on treatment and rehabilitation, sharing the same goal of maximizing the health of Canadians. However, the public health system is distinct from other parts of the health system in two key respects: its primary emphasis is on preventing disease and disability and its focus is on the health needs of populations rather than those of specific individuals.
Public health is the systematic response to infectious diseases. It also ensures access to clean drinking water, good sanitation and the control of pests and other disease vectors. Further, it is immunization clinics and programs promoting healthy lifestyles. But it is also there to protect Canadians when they face a public health crisis like SARS. If the public health system is fully prepared to carry out essential services, then communities across the country will be better protected from acute health events.
The reality in Canada today is that a strong, consistently and equitably resourced and integrated public health system does not exist. Public health systems across Canada are fragmented — a patchwork of programs, services and resources across the county. In reality, it is a group of multiple systems with varying roles, strengths and linkages.
Each province has its own public health legislation. Most legislation focuses on the control of communicable diseases. Public health services are funded through a variable mix of provincial and municipal funding formulae, with inconsistent overall strategies and results, and with virtually no meaningful role for input from health professionals via organizations such as the CMA, or the federal level, in terms of strategic direction or resources.
Federal legislation is limited to the blunt instrument of the Quarantine Act and a variety of health protection-related acts. (e.g., Food and Drugs Act, Hazardous Products Act, Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, Radiation Emitting Devices Act) Some of the laws, such as the Quarantine Act, date back to the late 19th century. Taken as a whole, the legislation does not clearly identify the public health mandate, roles and responsibilities of the different levels of government. In many cases, the assignment of authorities and accountabilities is anachronistic.
Moreover, there is little information available on the functioning and financing of Canada’s public health system. There is no “one-stop shopping” for authoritative information on public health issues.
In 2001, a working group of the Federal, Provincial and Territorial Advisory Committee on Population Health assessed the capacity of the public health system through a series of key informant interviews and literature reviews. The consistent finding was that public health had experienced a loss of resources and there was concern for the resiliency of the system infrastructure to respond consistently and proactively to the demands placed on it. Significant disparities were observed between “have” and “have-not” provinces and regions in their capacity to address public health issues.
The report’s findings are consistent with previous assessments by the Krever Commission and the Auditor General of Canada. In 1999, the Auditor General said that Health Canada was unprepared to fulfill its responsibilities in public health; communication between multiple agencies was poor; and weaknesses in the key surveillance system impeded the effective monitoring of injuries and communicable and non-communicable diseases. In 1997, Justice Horace Krever reported that the “public health departments in many parts of Canada do not have sufficient resources to carry out their duties.”
The Challenges Ahead
The 21st century brings with it an awesome array of new public health risks and ancient foes. Not all of them can be identified at the present time. New diseases (e.g., SARS, West Nile Virus) will likely continue to emerge. Dr. Alan Bernstein, President of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, recently noted that SARS is here to stay. Old threats, such as contamination of a community water supply (e.g., Walkerton), can strike quickly if vigilance is relaxed or delegated to third parties. This century will likely bring greater focus on threats from the physical environment. Our social environment is also a source of illness as shown by the recent epidemic trends in obesity and type 2 diabetes mellitus. A substantial minority of Canadians continue to smoke. In short, there is no lack of public health threats to Canadians.
Although for each of these issues, there is a clear role for clinical care, it is the public health system that will identify and monitor health threats and provide interventions to prevent disease and injury and improve health. The system will also be at the front lines in any response to a biological, chemical or nuclear event. The public health system must have the infrastructure to respond to a range of threats to health, including emergencies. The experience with SARS has reaffirmed that we do not have the system flexibility to respond to these events after they have occurred. It is vital that we take steps now “to embrace not just the essential elements of disease protection and surveillance but also new strategies and tactics capable of addressing global challenges.”<1>
CMA’S PROPOSED PUBLIC HEALTH ACTION PLAN
No one policy instrument can possibly address the multiple factors involved in meeting the public health challenge head on. Similarly, no one level of government or constituency (e.g., community medicine) can or should shoulder all of the responsibilities.
Although we need to restore public confidence quickly, we must also do what it takes to get it right. Accordingly, the CMA is proffering a three-pronged approach to meet the challenge:
* A legislative reform strategy
* A capacity enhancement strategy
* A research, surveillance and communication strategy.
These three broad strategies make up the CMA’s proposed 10-point Public Health Action Plan. Taken together, the CMA believes the Plan, if adopted, will serve us very well in the future.
Our experience with SARS — and the seeming lack of coordination between international, federal, provincial and local system levels — should be a massive wake-up call. It highlights the need for legislative reform to clarify the roles of governments with respect to the management of public health issues and threats.
Four years ago, national consultations on renewing federal health protection legislation<2> resulted in a recommendation that
* “The federal government must be given, either through legislation or through memoranda of understanding among provincial and territorial governments, the authority it needs to effectively address any outbreak of a communicable disease, where the health risk extends beyond provincial borders.
* “Federal health protection legislation should be amended to give Health Canada authority to act quickly and decisively in the event of a national health emergency... if it poses a serious threat to public health; affects particularly vulnerable segments of the population; exceeds the capacity of local authorities to deal with the risk; and involves pathogens that could be rapidly transmitted across national and international borders.”
Such legislative reform is consistent with the federal government’s well-recognized responsibility to act to protect public health and safety. It fits well with Health Minister McLellan’s recently announced plans to act now to review and update health protection legislation. The SARS outbreak has provided further experience to support these, and in our view, even stronger recommendations.
There is ample historical evidence to support the federal government’s role in the management of communicable disease, a role that dates back to the time of confederation. The quarantine power was the initial manifestation of this authority in 1867 under Section 91 of the British North America Act and it gave the federal government the responsibility for ensuring the containment of infectious diseases. The outbreak of the Spanish Flu epidemic in 1918 further highlighted the need for coordinated national efforts and (at the urging of the CMA and others) resulted in the creation of the federal Department of Health in 1919. It would be reasonable to assume that legislators at the time had an expansive view of the need for centralized authority to deal with pan-Canadian health threats.
One hundred and thirty-five years after confederation, we have a highly mobile global community. This mobility and the attendant devastating speed with which diseases can spread demand a national response. Currently, there is tremendous variation in public health system capacity among the various provinces and territories and, more particularly, among municipalities and local authorities. Inconsistencies in provincial approaches to public health matters have resulted in significant disparities between and within the provinces.<3>
Health Canada’s mandate as set out in its enabling legislation states that “[t]he powers, duties and functions of the Minister extend to and include all matters over which Parliament has jurisdiction relating to the promotion and preservation of the health of the people of Canada.” The CMA believes that it is time for the federal government to take responsibility for public health matters that touch the lives of all Canadians.
The legal staffs at CMA, in consultation with external experts, have conducted a detailed review of existing legislation. We have concluded, as Health Minister McLellan recently announced, that there is a long overdue need to consolidate and rationalize current related laws. We also believe there is now public support and a demonstrable need to enhance the powers afforded the federal government. We recognize that the government has put forward Bill C-17, the Public Safety Act and a review of health protection legislation is underway.
We believe that amending and updating existing legislation is necessary but not sufficient to address today’s public health challenges. The CMA is calling for the enhancement of the federal government’s “command and control” powers in times of national health emergencies. Specifically we are recommending a three-pronged legislative approach.
1. The CMA recommends
The enactment of a Canada Emergency Health Measures Act that would consolidate and enhance existing legislation, allowing for a more rapid national response, in cooperation with the provinces and territories, based on a graduated, systematic approach, to health emergencies that pose an acute and imminent threat to human health and safety across Canada.
The existing Emergencies Act gives the federal government the authority to become involved in public welfare emergencies when regions of the country are faced with “an emergency that is caused by a real or imminent... disease in human beings... that results or may result in a danger to life or property... so serious as to be a national emergency.” However, to use this power, the federal government must declare a “national emergency,” which itself has political and economic ramifications, particularly from an international perspective, and mitigates against its use. The CMA believes that this all-or-nothing approach is not in the public’s best interest. The concept of emergency in the context of public health requires a different response from governments in the future.
Although we recognize that provincial and municipal governments currently have preplanned sets of responses to health threats, the CMA is proposing new legislation to allow for a rapid federal response to public health emergencies. The proposed Emergency Health Measures Act clarifies the roles and authority of governments and ensures a consistent and appropriate response with sufficient human and financial resources to protect Canadians faced with a public health emergency. Of utmost importance, all Canadians, regardless of their location, can be assured that the response to a health emergency will be delivered systematically by experts who can sustain the effort as needed.
The proposed legislation would be founded on a graduated approach that would give the federal government the powers necessary to deal with a crisis, in an appropriately measured way, as it escalates. As the emergency grows, the government could implement stronger measures as required to meet the challenge — in principle, akin to the Unites States’ homeland security levels, which increase as the level of threat increases (see Appendix 4 for a description of the Canadian Emergency Health Alert System).
The CMA strongly believes that the federal government must have jurisdiction to act when the ability of the provinces to respond to public health emergencies is so disparate. The inability of one province to stop the spread of virulent disease would have serious implications for the health of residents in the rest of the country. The federal government and the provinces must work together to ensure the safety of all our citizens.
2. The CMA recommends
The creation of a Canadian Office for Disease Surveillance and Control (CODSC) as the lead Canadian agency in public health, operating at arm’s length from government.
Although some provinces have established centres of public health expertise, considering the breadth of public health issues, the relative population sizes and differences in wealth, it will never be feasible to have comprehensive centres of public health expertise for each province and territory.
Even if one achieved this, there would increasingly be issues of economies of scale and unnecessary duplication among centres. This issue is not unique to Canada.1 The CMA is proposing the development of a Canadian Office for Disease Surveillance and Control (CODSC) operating at arm’s length from any level of government. CODSC would have overall responsibility for protecting the health of Canadians.
The Office would provide credible information to enhance health decisions and promote health by developing and applying disease prevention and control, environmental health and health promotion and education activities.
CODSC would enable a consistent and coordinated approach to public health emergencies as well as play a key role in the prevention and control of chronic diseases and injuries. It would provide national health surveillance, apolitical scientific expertise, system development including standards and guideline development, development and dissemination of an evidence base for public health interventions, skills training and transfer of expertise (i.e., through secondment of staff) and resources, including funding for core programs, to other levels of the system (e.g., provincial and local).
3. The CMA recommends
The appointment of a Chief Public Health Officer of Canada to act as the lead scientific voice for public health in Canada; to head the Canadian Office for Disease Surveillance and Control; and to work with provinces and territories to develop and implement a pan-Canadian public health action plan.
Many national or federal–provincial–territorial committees play an important role in recommending public health strategies or actions. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization and the Federal, Provincial and Territorial Advisory Committee on Population Health are two excellent examples. But there is currently no single credible public health authority in whom is vested, through legislation or federal–provincial–territorial agreement, the overall responsibility for pan-Canadian public health issues.
Therefore, the CMA is recommending the appointment of a Chief Public Health Officer of Canada. Potential roles for this officer may include:
* Serve as the head of the Canadian Office for Disease Surveillance and Control
* Serve as the national spokesperson for public health with the independence to comment on critical public health issues
* Report annually on the health of the population
* Develop, implement and report independently to parliament on public health system performance measures
* Lead processes to identify and address gaps in the nation’s public health system.
The public health system infrastructure is the foundation that supports the planning, delivery and evaluation of public health activities. In March 2001, the Federal, Provincial and Territorial Advisory Committee on Public Health<3> reported,
In the view of respondents the system ‘is lacking in depth.’ This means that a sustained crisis would seriously compromise other programming. While the research does not indicate that the public health system in Canada is strained beyond capacity, there does appear to be agreement that there is a capacity to manage just one crisis at a time.
However, just 2 years later, the GTA, an area with one of Canada’s most sophisticated public and acute care health systems, was not able to manage the SARS crisis and carry on any other programs. The Ontario government recognized this state of affairs when, on 12 June, Ontario’s Health Minister Tony Clement said, “I was concerned that if we had one additional large-scale crisis, that the system would crash.”
Important public health issues ranging from immunization to suicide prevention went virtually unaddressed, as the public health capacity in Toronto was overwhelmed. In the absence of a mechanism to share resources within the system and a general lack of overall system surge capacity, the city of Toronto and the province competed with each other to recruit trained staff from other health departments. The SARS outbreak has shown there is no surge capacity in Canada’s largest city. The acute care system in Toronto virtually ground to a halt in dealing with SARS. We must ask ourselves what would have happened if SARS had struck first in a smaller centre in a far less-advantaged region of Canada.
Clearly Canada is not fully prepared. We should not have needed a crisis to tell us this. The CMA sees several components to rebuilding the capacity of the public health system.
Public health human resources
For the essential functions of the public health system to be realized, public health agencies need a workforce with appropriate and constantly updated skills. Canada’s public health workforce is extremely thin. There appear to be too few graduate-level public health professionals (i.e., those holding a master’s degree and physicians who are certified specialists in community medicine); those who do exist are not distributed equitably across jurisdictions. The scarcity of hospital-based infection control practitioners and emergency physicians within the acute care system and the lack of integration of hospital and community-based disease control efforts have been particularly striking during the SARS outbreak.
The knowledge and skills required for effective public health practice are not static. They continually evolve as new evidence is identified. However, continuing education programming for public health practitioners is woefully underdeveloped in Canada. Health Canada has made some limited progress in this area, but the issue needs to be addressed much more substantively.
4. The CMA recommends
The creation of a Canadian Centre of Excellence for Public Health, under the auspices of the CODSC, to invest in multidisciplinary training programs in public health, establish and disseminate best practices among public health professionals.
Canada has world-class expertise in public health. However, it does not have the depth of other countries, partly because we do not have a national multidisciplinary school of public health of the calibre of Harvard in Boston, Johns Hopkins in Baltimore and the School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in London.
A national school of public health, which might be based on a virtual network of centres nationwide, could
* Develop a plan to assess and address the substantial educational needs of new and existing public health staff
* Address the coordination of the various academic training programs to meet the needs of the field
* Ensure self-sufficiency of our public health workforce.
5. The CMA recommends
The establishment of a Canadian Public Health Emergency Response Service, under the auspices of the CODSC, to provide for the rapid deployment of human resources (e.g., emergency pan-Canadian locum programs) during health emergencies.
The SARS outbreak clearly demonstrated the need for a pre-planned approach to supporting and augmenting the public health and acute care workforce during a crisis. When health professionals in the GTA were overwhelmed, we were ill prepared to move health professionals in from other jurisdictions to help. Health professional associations like the CMA took the first steps in investigating and overcoming obstacles regarding licensure and insurance. We were taken aback when we found that the Ontario government had unilaterally awarded an exclusive contract to a for-profit company to arrange for emergency relief. The further delay caused by concerns about privacy, confidentiality and harmonizing fees hampered relief efforts. The deployment of health professionals during health emergencies is too important to be left in the hands of for-profit organizations as it was during the SARS experience.
An established Canadian Public Health Emergency Response Service, operating on a non-profit basis, would
* Maintain a “reserve” of public health professionals who are fully trained and could be deployed to areas of need during times of crisis
* Co-ordinate the logistics of issues such as portable licensing, malpractice and disability insurance
* Identify funding for staff training and a more equitable distribution of numbers and skills among jurisdictions.
Investment in public health
Considering the importance of the public health system and its capacity to protect and promote the health of Canadians, it is amazing that we have no reliable or comprehensive information about how much money is actually spent on the system or what public health human resources are available across Canada. This is partially due to the lack of uniform definitions, service delivery mechanisms and accounting practices. Even in the absence of reliable data on public health expenditures, there is ample evidence that the public health system continues to operate under serious resource constraints across Canada.
6. The CMA recommends
Tracking and public reporting of public health expenditures and capacity (both physical and human resources) by the Canadian Institute for Health Information and Statistics Canada, on behalf of the Canadian Office for Disease Surveillance and Control.
In its latest report on health system expenditures, the CIHI states that 6% of total expenditures in 2000 were spent on “public health and administration.”<4> The inclusion of administrative costs in this figure means that public health funding is substantially less than 6% of health system expenditures.2
Federal Government Estimates report that Health Canada allocated $433 million in 2003–2004 for health promotion and prevention activities with spending scheduled to decrease to $308 million by 2005–2006 or by almost 30%. This decrease in spending exemplifies a decade that has seen tremendous fluctuations in spending on public health activities.
The situation is alarming when looked at from a current-dollar basis; there was an 8.8% decrease in funding of public health activities between 1994–1995 and 1997–1998. In fact, federal spending on public health on a constant dollar basis did not regain its 1994–1995 level until 2000–2001.
Although the late 1990s saw some reinvestment in public health initiatives, the most recent 2003–2004 estimates suggest that, once again, federal investment in public health will decrease dramatically over the next few years. Indeed, public health continues to represent only a small fraction of total federal direct spending on health (9.7% in 2002–2003).
At the provincial level, although we cannot distance public health from administration, we know that it fell victim to the brutal climate of fiscal retrenchment of the 1990s, when in real terms provincial–territorial per capita health spending declined for 5 consecutive years after 1991–1992.
During this period, public health was further destabilized by regionalization. According to the Survey of Public Health Capacity in Canada most provincial and territorial officials reported reductions in programming as a result of the transfer of funding and responsibility to regional structures. Although Ontario did not regionalize, in 1997 public health funding was downloaded to municipalities, which left public health departments scrambling to find funds to meet existing programs as well as new services that were mandated by the provincial Health Protection and Promotion Act.
Whether talking about federal or provincial–territorial jurisdictions, we can no longer afford to have funding for health and safety subject to the vagaries of financial cycles.
However, what perhaps is most alarming is the potentially large economic impact of underinvestment in this area. Although the net cost of the SARS outbreak in Ontario is not yet known, recent estimates suggest that it could be as high as $2.1 billion.3 Given this, the proverbial ounce of prevention that is worth a pound of cure comes to mind suggesting that a relatively modest increase in funding for public health could potentially result in substantial savings in the longer term.
7. The CMA recommends
Federal government funding in the amount of $1 billion over 5 years to build adequate and consistent surge capacity across Canada and improve coordination among federal, provincial/territorial and municipal authorities to fulfill essential public health functions.
The best way to ensure that the public health system is capable of addressing the range of public health threats, including emergencies, is to significantly increase investment in its capacity. This investment must assist all levels of the system to fulfill essential public health functions, with particular attention to local and regional agencies. The strategic national leadership that we are calling for includes the development of new mechanisms for federal cost sharing of basic public health services and the guarantee of a basic core set of local programs serving everyone in Canada, regardless of where they live.
The system also needs to receive targeted funds so that it can do its work smarter and more effectively. Priority areas for this targeted funding should include development of an integrated information system and staff training.
Research, surveillance and communications
Canada’s ability to respond to emerging public health threats and acute events, such as the SARS outbreak, and to maintain its effective public health planning and program development depends on sound research, surveillance and rapid, real-time communications.
8. The CMA recommends
An immediate sequestered grant of $200 million over 5 years to the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to initiate an enhanced conjoint program of research with the Institute of Population and Public Health and the Institute of Infection and Immunity that will expand capacity for interdisciplinary research on public health, including infectious disease prevention and control measures.
Similar to the efforts in clinical care to support the use of evidence-based practices, interventions in public health must be based on research, evidence and best practices. A national effort should be undertaken to develop and make widely available, on an ongoing basis, a comprehensive and up-to-date review of the evidence base for public health programs. This information would support effective practice, enhance public health research capacity and support other infrastructure elements (e.g., minimum programs and services, performance measurement, system funding). It could also reduce unnecessary duplication of efforts by different public health agencies.
We applaud the tremendous work of the unique trans-Canada partnership of 4 CIHR-funded research teams who, in just 11 weeks, discovered the complete DNA sequence of the coronavirus associated with SARS. This is a perfect example of what can be accomplished when our talented research teams work together. The recent announcement by the CIHR of an integrated national strategy for research on SARS reflects the intent of this recommendation for other public health challenges.
9. The CMA recommends
The mandatory reporting by provinces and territories of identified infectious diseases to the newly established Chief Public Health Officer of Canada to enable appropriate communications, analyses and interventions.
Public health surveillance is defined as the ongoing, systematic collection, analysis and interpretation of health data necessary for designing implementing and evaluating public health programs. It is an integral part of the public health system and performs an essential function in early detection and response to threats to human health.
Current surveillance systems for communicable and noncommunicable diseases are inadequate to allow public health professionals to detect and react to major health issues. For effective public health management, surveillance must be a continuous process covering a range of integrated data sources to provide useful and timely information.
10. The CMA recommends
The one-time infusion of $100 million, with an additional $2 million a year, for a “REAL” (rapid, effective, accessible and linked) Health Communication and Coordination Initiative to improve technical capacity to communicate with front line public health providers in real time during health emergencies.
In today’s world, international travel, business and migration can move infectious diseases around the world at jet speed. But during the SARS experience, governments and public health authorities were unable to communicate in real time with health professionals on the front lines. Gaps in the basic communication infrastructure prevent public health agencies from talking with each other in real time, and also hinder exchanges between public health staff, private clinicians and other sources of information about emerging new diseases.
In response to requests from both the Ontario Medical Association and Health Canada, the CMA mobilized its communication networks to provide physicians with critical information about public health management of SARS. In less than 48 hours, via email and fax, we reached over 45,000 physicians with authoritative information. Through the good offices of the Canadian Council of Health Services Accreditation, this information was also made available to over 1500 accredited health facilities across Canada.
Although necessity caused the limits of the system to be tested, SARS highlighted the fact that we do not have information systems in place to facilitate real-time communication with health professionals. Information is the key to effective response during times of emergency. Information in real time is also essential for effective day-to-day health care to provide, for example, information on adverse drug reactions.
SARS brought out the best in Canada and Canadians’ commitment to one another. It also turned a bright, sometimes uncomfortable spotlight on the ability of this country’s health care system to respond to a crisis, be it an emerging disease, a terrorist attack, a natural disaster or a large-scale accident. We must learn from the SARS experience and quickly move to rebuild the infrastructure of a strong public health system.
The CMA believes that this 10-point Public Health Action Plan will go a long way toward addressing shortfalls in the Canadian public health system. Action now will help to ensure that Canadians can be confident once again that their governments are doing all they can to protect them from the threat of new infectious diseases.
We wish the advisory committee well in its deliberations and offer the CMA’s assistance at any time in clarifying the strategies set out in our submission.
APPENDIX 1: THE CMA’S PUBLIC HEALTH ACTION PLAN
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APPENDIX 2: ESTIMATED COST OF IMPLEMENTING THE RECOMMENDATIONS
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Estimated cost over 5 years
Legislative and institutional reform
1. Canada Emergency Health Measures Act
2. Canadian Office for Disease Surveillance and Control (CODSC)
3. Chief Public Health Officer of Canada
4. Canadian Centre of Excellence for Public Health
5. Canadian Public Health Emergency Response Service
6. Canadian Institute for Health Information and Statistics Canada
7. Surge capacity
Research, surveillance and communications
8. Canadian Institutes of Health Research
9. Mandatory reporting
Included under 2 and 3 above
10. Enhanced reporting
a. Work is currently underway to break-out public health from the current category of “public health and administration.”
b. This is an incremental investment in addition to funding currently available under Health Canada’s Health Promotion and Prevention Strategic Outcome area.
c. Funding must be sequestered specifically for new initiatives related to public health. Additional money could also be acquired through funding from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation, which received an additional $500 million in 2002–2003 (announced in the 2003 federal budget) to enhance the Foundation’s support of public health infrastructure.
APPENDIX 3: CHRONOLOGY OF THE CMA’S RESPONSE TO SARS
* First known case of atypical pneumonia (SARS) occurs in Guangdong province, China
* World Health Organization (WHO) receives reports from the Chinese Ministry of Health about SARS; 305 persons affected and 5 deaths
* Canadian index case arrives in Hong Kong for a family visit
* Canadian index case is a guest at the Metropole hotel in Kowloon
* A medical doctor from Guangdong checks into Metropole hotel in Kowloon. The physician, who became ill a week before staying at the hotel, is considered to be the original source of the infection
* This leads subsequently to outbreaks in Vietnam, Hong Kong, Singapore and Canada after guests leave the hotel and return home
* Canadian index case returns home to Toronto
* Canadian index patient dies in Toronto, 9 days after the onset of her illness
* WHO issues global alert about SARS
* National and international media reports begin appearing about SARS
* The Canadian index patient’s son, Canada’s second SARS victim, dies 15 days after the onset of his illness
* First reports from Toronto about deaths from SARS
* Health Canada receives notice of SARS patients in Ontario and British Columbia; begins regular updates on SARS on its website
* Health Canada initiates its pan-Canadian communication infrastructure, based on its pandemic influenza contingency plans
* CMA calls Health Canada to offer assistance and request “real time information.” CMA immediately placed on list of participants in daily pan-Canadian teleconferences.
* CMA adds a SARS page to its website home page (cma.ca) with CMA Shortcuts to expert information and daily updates
* CMA alerts all its divisions and affiliates to the Health Canada and CMA SARS web pages
* eCMAJ includes SARS updates on its website
* CMA divisions add a link to SARS information for health professionals to their websites
* Health Canada requests CMA’s assistance to inform physicians of the public health management guidelines for SARS
* CMA sends an email to 33,000 members (copied to divisions and affiliated societies) to alert them to Health Canada’s SARS public health management documents and SARS web page
* CMA CEO initiates cross-directorate task force and deploys dedicated staff resources. Some other CMA programs deferred/delayed. Task force begins daily staff SARS Working Group meetings
* CMA communicates with the Ontario Medical Association on a daily basis
* CMA holds teleconference with divisional communication directors re: SARS
* CMA contacts the British Medical Association to establish whether we can secure a supply of masks from European sources
* CMA organizes a teleconference among national health care organizations to discuss SARS developments
* CMA posts electronic grand rounds on SARS for clinicians on cma.ca;
* CMA sends email and fax communication to physicians to raise awareness of SARS e-grand rounds on cma.ca
* Working with the Mental Health Support Network of Canada, CMA prepares and posts on cma.ca, fact sheets for health professionals and the public on coping with the stress caused by SARS
* CMA hosts second teleconference among national health care organizations to discuss SARS developments
* Electronic grand rounds on SARS updated and promoted through cma.ca
* CMA sends email to membership requesting volunteers for the CMA Volunteer Emergency SARS Relief Network
* CMA consults with the American Medical Association regarding the possibility of US physicians volunteering for the relief network
* CMA CEO sends letter to deputy minister of health about the urgent need to create a national ministerial SARS task force
April 30-May 1
* CMA participates in Health Canada-sponsored international SARS conference in Toronto
* Health Canada announces the National Advisory Group on SARS and Public Health, headed by Dr. David Naylor
* Opinion editorial by Dr. Dana Hanson, CMA president, on SARS and public health surge capacity published in The Ottawa Citizen;
* CMA organizes a meeting of national health care organizations to discuss lessons learned from SARS
* CMA receives an invitation to submit a brief to the National Advisory Group on SARS and Public Health
* CMA sends e-mail to targeted segment of its membership (community medicine, public health, infectious disease and medical microbiology) requesting volunteers for the CMA Volunteer Emergency SARS Relief Network
* CMA president outlines the CMA’s Public Health Action Plan during a speech at the Canadian Club in Toronto
* CMA submission to the National Advisory Committee on SARS and public health
APPENDIX 4: CMA’S PROPOSED HEALTH EMERGENCY ALERT SYSTEM
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Health alert may be declared in:
* Any area under federal jurisdiction
* Any community or province/territory with a risk of transmission to other provinces/territories or countries
* Any community or province/territory with insufficient resources to manage the public health emergency within the capacity of the local public health authorities
Definition of the area of concern
Voluntary quarantine for individuals or property
Chief public health officer takes the lead in coordinating the response
Regulation or prohibition of travel
Reviewing and updating health emergency procedures
Determination of local capacity to lead and respond
Coordinating necessary response efforts with national disaster relief agencies, armed forces or law enforcement agencies at the federal–provinical–territorial level
Medium to significant limitations of civil rights and freedoms
Assessing future resource requirements
Deployment of a national response team
Medium to significant limitations of civil rights and freedoms
Evacuation of persons and the removal of personal property
Providing the public with necessary information.
Discretionary deployment of the national response team or on request of local authorities
Quarantine of individuals and/or property with enforcement by law
Implementing interventions, as appropriate, and emergency response actions
Regulation of the distribution and availability of essential goods, services and resources
Assessing further refinement of actions
Restricting access to the area of concern
Requisition, use or disposition of property
Required consent of governor in council
Lead response team
1. Garrett, L. Betrayal of trust: the collapse of global public health. New York: Hyperion; 2000.
2. Health Canada. National consultations, summary report: renewal of the federal health protection legislation. Ottawa: Health Canada; 1999.
3. Federal, Provincial and Territorial Advisory Committee on Population Health. Survey of public health capacity in Canada: highlights. Ottawa: The Committee; 2001.
4. Canadian Institutes for Health Information. National health expenditure trends: 1975–2002. Ottawa: CIHI; 2002.
5. Lévesque M. The economic impact of SARS. TD Economics Topic Paper. TD Bank Financial Group; 6 May 2003. Available: http://www.td.com/economics/topic/ml0503_sars.html (viewed: 20 June 2003).
1 Many countries (e.g., United States, United Kingdom, Norway and the Netherlands) have developed critical masses of public health expertise at the national level. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States, which has a critical mass, great depth of scientific expertise and the tools and fiscal resources to fund public health programs at both state and local levels through demonstration projects, is a sterling example of the effectiveness of such a central agency.
2 A review by the Canadian Institute for Health Information recognizes the problem with current expenditure tracking systems and has recommended separating public health from government administrative costs and prepayment administration in future health system cost estimates.
3 On 6 May, the TD Bank released a paper<5> suggesting that the cost of SARS to the Canadian economy may be between $1.5 and $2.1 billion.
Notes for an address by Dr. Eugene Bereza, Chair, Committee on Ethics, Canadian Medical Association : Bill C-13 - An act respecting assisted human reproduction : Presentation to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health
BILL C-13 - AN ACT RESPECTING ASSISTED HUMAN REPRODUCTION
Presentation to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health
November 20, 2002
BILL C-13 - AN ACT RESPECTING ASSISTED HUMAN REPRODUCTION
Madame Chair and Members of the Committee:
My name is Dr. Eugene Bereza. I am a physician and clinical ethicist at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal and Chair of the Canadian Medical Association Committee on Ethics. I am here today representing our members, more than 54,000 physicians from across Canada. I also wish to speak as a advocate for our patients, especially those affected by infertility and those who are or will suffer from diseases for which medical science is searching for cures.
I am accompanied today by Dr. John Williams, our Director of Ethics.
You will recall that we appeared before this Committee on October 23, 2001 in company with representatives from eight other national health provider and scientific organizations to present our views on draft legislation on assisted human reproduction. Although we were pleased that your December 2001 report recommended the establishment of an assisted reproduction regulatory body outside the Department of Health, we were disappointed that you did not find favour with other recommendations we put forward.
The government responded to your report with Bill C-56, now Bill C-13. It is this bill that we are here to address today. Although there are many details in the bill on which we would like either clarification or changes, we intend to focus our remarks on the issue that we consider of greatest importance for our patient’s wellfare and the practice of medicine. That issue is the use of the criminal power to deal with medical and scientific activities.
The Standing Committee Report and Bill C-13
In your December 2001 report, you acknowledged our position on this issue: “Some witnesses recommended the elimination of the prohibited activities category altogether. Citing the benefits of regulatory flexibility, they felt that all activities should come under the controlled activity category, including the more reprehensible activities like reproductive cloning for which licences, arguably, would never be allowed under the regulations” (page 9). However, you rejected this view on the grounds that “a licence-related prohibition of this sort would not carry the same weight or degree of social censure as the statutory prohibition…. An outright statutory ban signals more clearly that certain activities are either unsafe or socially unacceptable.
The use of the statutory ban also signals that these activities are of such concern to Canadians that their status as a prohibited activity may not be altered except with the approval of Parliament” (page 9).
Bill C-13 reflects your views on this matter. We recognize your good faith in proposing and defending this position but we are convinced that its potential for harm outweighs its potential benefits. And so we are pleased to have this opportunity to reiterate the reason why the CMA believes that Bill C-13 will adversely affect the patient-physician relationship and the advance of medical science.
Need to Change Bill C-13
As you know, our position on this matter is supported by legal scholars such as Patrick Healy, McGill University Faculty of Law, Tim Caulfield, Director of the University of Alberta Health Law Institute, and Bartha Knoppers, Université de Montréal Centre de Recherche en Droit Publique. In essence, our position is that the criminal law is a blunt instrument and very difficult to change and is therefore appropriate for activities whose status is unlikely to change over time, such as murder and theft, rather than medical and scientific activities that are constantly developing. The latter are better left to a representative regulatory body to determine if and when changes in health and safety considerations and public attitudes and values might justify allowing certain formerly prohibited activities to take place under specific conditions.
Bill C-13 begins with the statement: “This enactment prohibits assisted reproduction procedures that are considered to be ethically unacceptable.” This echoes the conclusions in your report. However, as the transcripts of your hearings demonstrate, many Canadians, especially those who are infertile, do not consider some or all of these procedures to be ethically unacceptable. As a matter of public policy, should Canadians who hold this view be denied access to medical treatment for infertility because others consider such treatments to be ethically unacceptable? Should patients who suffer from conditions for which research that is forbidden in Bill C-13 might lead to a cure be denied that opportunity? We question whether criminal prohibitions are appropriate for dealing with activities on which there is considerable ethical disagreement among Canadians.
In Canada legislators have been justifiably reluctant to use the criminal law to deal with medical and scientific issues such as abortion, withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment and the conduct of medical research. Why is an exception being made for assisted reproduction? What sort of precedent will this set for other controversial bioethical issues?
We are also concerned about the bill’s penalties for infractions: jail terms up to 10 years and fines up to $500,000. These are disproportionate to the penalties for crimes that injure persons or property and, as such, will create a climate of undue fear and excessive caution for physicians and scientists working in this area, such that they will avoid any activity that is potentially covered by the bill, even to the detriment of patient care. Given the rapid advance of science and medical practice and the difficulty of anticipating new developments, it will be difficult to adjust the law to deal with new applications of prohibited activities that may be ethically acceptable.
An Alternate Solution
The CMA has stated repeatedly that we are not opposed to the prohibition of certain assisted human reproduction activities. Instead of instituting criminal prohibitions within the legislation, we remain convinced that an independent body on an ongoing basis should determine the activities that are permissible or prohibited on the basis of up-to-date scientific research, public input and ethical review. This can be accomplished very easily in Bill C-13 by moving the procedures listed under “Prohibited Activities” (sections 5-9) to “Controlled Activities” and adding the words “except in accordance with the regulations and a licence” to each of the provisions in sections 5-9.
Consistent with this recommendation we consider that the regulatory agency should be established as soon as possible and be given as much authority as possible over the matters that Bill C-13, section 65, reserves to regulations of Governor in Council. We hope that the agency will build upon the experience and expertise of existing organizations and structures in the field of assisted reproduction that deal with practice standards, education, certification and accreditation.
To summarize, we strongly support government efforts to regulate assisted human reproduction and related activities, including the prohibition of certain practices either temporarily or permanently. However, like others who have appeared before this Committee, we do not believe that criminalizing the medical and scientific activities named in the bill is an appropriate way to achieve those objectives. We consider that the objectives could be as well achieved by far less drastic means than criminalization and, moreover, that criminalization would create major obstacles to legitimate medical and scientific progress in the treatment of infertility. We recommend that the proposed agency be empowered to regulate these practices and that the criminal power be invoked when controlled activities are performed without authority of a licence from the agency or in defiance of the licensing conditions established by the agency.
Thank you, Madame Chair and members of the Committee. We will be pleased to respond to your questions.
On behalf of its more than 54,000 members, the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to provide the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health with recommendations in regard to protecting the national blood supply from the West Nile Virus (WNV). As physicians, we understand both the perceived and actual risks associated with blood-borne diseases and the impact on individuals, families and communities.
WNV has emerged in North America, presenting a threat to public, animal and equine health. The most serious human manifestation of WNV infection is fatal encephalitis (inflammation of the brain). WNV is spread by the bite of an infected mosquito and can infect people, many types of birds, horses and some other animals. Most people who become infected with WNV will have either no symptoms or only mild ones. However, on rare occasions, WNV infection can result in severe and sometimes fatal illnesses. Certain people, including seniors, the young and those with weak immune systems, are at greater risk for serious health effects.
In 2002, West Nile Virus was documented in five provinces (Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Quebec and Saskatchewan). Further to this, the United States Centre for Disease Control and Prevention reported the first documented cases of person-to-person West Nile Virus transmission through organ transplantation, blood and blood product transfusion and possibly breastfeeding. It is imperative that the risk associated with the transmission of West Nile Virus through blood transfusions be minimized.
We understand that the Canadian Blood Services (CBS) is working towards a validated laboratory test which may be available by the next mosquito season and that in the absence of this test there are a number of contingency plans. It appears that the CBS and Hema Quebec are maintaining vigilance and maximizing efforts towards controlling contamination through blood. This is commendable. We believe that these efforts are one component of what is required to maintain the health and safety of Canadians from the spread of known and emerging diseases. A second component is to ensure that communication about WNV to the public is accurate, timely and consistent. Effective risk communication is imperative not only to promote a safe blood supply, but also to manage risk perception associated with a positive test for WNV.
A comprehensive approach is required to protect the public from emerging health problems such as the WNV. A strong public health infrastructure is necessary to ensure that governments are able to protect and promote health and to prevent illness. This involves prevention, early detection, containment, communication and information dissemination.
STRENGTHENING PUBLIC HEALTH
Through its public health infrastructure, society protects and promotes health and works to prevent illness, injury and disability. In today’s world these public health functions require an increasingly specialized and well-trained workforce; sophisticated surveillance, monitoring and information systems; and adequate and continuously available laboratory support. Its ultimate effectiveness, however, depends upon the ability of the system to communicate crucial information and health advice to the right professionals in real time, when they need it.
The devastating impact of the failure to effectively communicate essential information is evident in examples as diverse, yet dramatic, as the tragedy of Walkerton and the untimely death of Vanessa Young. In both cases the information health professionals needed to make optimum decisions was not accessible in a reliable and timely manner.
Reports indicate that across this country public health workers are stretched to the limit to perform routine work. The public health infrastructure is put to the test further whenever there is a disaster, large or small, in Canada and, not withstanding best efforts, it does not always pass. The public health system is also challenged by the potential for a disconnect in communications between differing jurisdictions that may be found when, for example, First Nations communities under federal jurisdiction overlap areas of provincial/territorial jurisdiction. In the aftermath of 9/11 and the anthrax scare in the United States, Canadians must be assured of a rapid, knowledgeable, expert response to emergency public health challenges.
Commissioner Roy Romanow suggests in the recent report of the Royal Commission on the Future of Health Care that “a portion of the proposed new Primary Health Care Transfer should be targeted to expanding efforts by provinces and territories to prevent illnesses and injuries, promote good health, and integrate those activities with primary health care.”
The Fifth Report of the Senate Committee on Science, Technology and Social Affairs, chaired by Senator Kirby, notes that “The major problem with public health programs is that funding is low, and usually unstable or inconsistent. As a result, the public health infrastructure in Canada is under considerable stress and has deteriorated substantially in recent years.”
The Senate Committee recommended that the federal government, “ensure strong leadership and provide additional funding of $200 million to sustain, better coordinate and integrate the public health infrastructure in Canada as well as relevant health promotion efforts.”
During the First Ministers’ meeting in September 2000, the First Ministers committed to strengthening their investments and commitments to public health, including the development of strategies and policies that recognize the determinants of health, enhance disease prevention and improve public health. They made several commitments towards achieving the goal, including:
* Promoting those public services, programs and policies that extend beyond care and treatment and which make a critical contribution to the health and wellness of Canadians;
* Addressing key priorities for health care renewal and supporting innovations to meet the current and emerging needs of Canadians;
* Reporting regularly to Canadians on health status, health outcomes, and the performance of publicly funded health services, and the actions taken to improve these services.
In 1999, the Auditor General found Health Canada unprepared to fulfill its responsibilities in public health; communication between multiple agencies was poor and weaknesses in the key surveillance system impeded the effective monitoring of communicable and noncommunicable diseases and injuries. In 1997, Justice Horace Krever reported that the “public health departments in many parts of Canada do not have sufficient resources to carry out their duties.”
The capacity of the public health care sector to deliver disease prevention and health promotion programs in Canada is currently inadequate, and its ability to respond varies from coast to coast. This is due to a lack of trained professionals and a lack of operational funds. Enhanced commitments are needed from governments at all levels to ensure that adequate human resources and infrastructure are in place to respond to public health issues when they arise. This includes the expansion of the public health training programs to enhance the resources in this field. The ability of the public health system to respond to these issues has a direct impact on the wellbeing of the people of Canada in a manner as important as the ability of the acute care system to respond to medical emergencies.
Therefore the CMA recommends that:
The federal government invest in human resources and infrastructure needed to develop an adequate and effective public health system capable of responding to emerging public health issues.
The public health system is complex and multifactorial. It is therefore imperative that different departments and sectors coordinate and communicate effectively to coordinate efforts and avoid duplication. The development of an adequate surveillance system and consideration of mandatory reporting of WNV infections in humans is one component of this requirement. In addition to collecting these data, a more extensive communication and dissemination plan should be developed to enhance the impact of skilled professionals, programs and policies. Responsible messaging should be developed in a timely manner, for the public and for individuals who are detected to have (or previously had) a WNV infection. Such messaging must carefully balance public awareness of risk against threats to the CBS/Hema Quebec donor pool and the creation of anxiety in people who need to use blood or blood products.
It is essential that the federal government take a leadership role to ensure that the communication tools and information technology necessary to enable a more rapid and informed response to situations such as identification of emerging diseases in the blood supply, natural disasters, disease outbreaks, newly discovered adverse drug reactions, and man-made disasters or bio-terrorism are accessible in real time in all regions of the country.
In its pre budget submission, the CMA called on the government to strengthen the public health system to ensure that governments are able to protect and promote health and to prevent illness. This involves the detection of emerging health problems, like West Nile Virus transmission, as well as containment, communication and information dissemination.
Therefore the CMA recommends that:
The federal government provide a one-time infusion of $30 million for the creation of a R.R.E.A.L (Rapid, Reliable, Effective, Accessible and Linked) Health Communication and Coordination Initiative which would strengthen Canada’s public health infrastructure and enhance coordination and communication amongst all levels of government, public health officials, health educators, community service providers, physicians and organizations such as the Canadian Blood Service/Hema Quebec, Canadian Public Health Association and the Canadian Medical Association.
Good afternoon. As was said in my introduction, my name is Anne Doig and like the chair, I am a family physician. I practice as a "full service" family physician, which means that I provide care in hospital as well as in my office, including obstetrical services. I have practiced in Saskatoon for almost 32 years.
It is my pleasure to be here today. As President of the Canadian Medical Association, I represent all physicians, but today, I am proud to represent women participating in what is now a traditional occupation for them, that is, medicine.
Joining me today is Dr. Mamta Gautam, a specialist and champion of physician health and well-being. For 20 years, she worked as a psychiatrist treating physicians exclusively in her private practice in Ottawa, and has been hailed as "the Doctor's Doctor."
The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada has reported full-time university enrolment increased by more than 190,000, or 31%, between 2000 and 2006 and now stands at record levels.
Full-time male enrolment has passed 350,000 students and full-time female enrolment has passed 460,000.
Women account for two-thirds of full-time enrolment growth since 1971, a surge driven by the rapid increase in women's participation in the professions, including medicine.
As it stands now, the males outnumber females among practicing physicians by 67%-33%. While there are still more men than women in practice, the percentage of female first-year residents in 2008 was 57%. This is a reversal of the percentage when I graduated, and an increase from 44% fifteen years ago. This means that a significant majority of physicians close to the beginning of their medical careers, are women.
Not surprisingly, given those figures, there are many medical disciplines where the proportion of females is much higher than it was even just a few years ago.
For instance, in general surgery - long held to be a bastion of male physicians - females comprised 18% of the 1993 first year residents compared to 40% in 2008. Just over half of first-year family medicine residents in 1993 were female compared to 64% today.
However, women medical graduates still tend to choose to pursue residency training in family medicine, pediatrics, and obstetrics/gynecology in greater proportions than their male counterparts. As has always been the case, males continue to have a stronger preference for surgery - 23% compared to 11% of females - although that gap is narrowing.
So, the overall numbers of women physicians are increasing as are the percentages of those going into what one might call non-traditional specialties, albeit at a slower rate.
The so-called feminization of medicine brings with it several other issues and I will touch on two major ones.
First, work-life balance.
The rise in the number of women physicians is bringing a positive shift in the way physicians practice and the hours that they keep.
Very few of today's young physicians - male or female - are willing to work the long hours that physicians of previous generations did.
That said, data from the 2007 National Physician Survey, which included responses from over 18,000 physicians across the country, show that, on average, male doctors still work nearly 54 hours per week, while female doctors work 48 - although many work more than that. These figures do not include time on call, nor time spent on child care or other family responsibilities. Many members of the Committee can empathize with this level of commitment.
In contrast, the European Union Work Time Directive has said that the maximum work week must be 48 hours. If Canada were to try to apply that directive to physicians our health care system would grind to a halt.
The number of physicians opting to be paid by a means other than pure fee-for-service has dramatically increased. FFS rewards the doctor financially for seeing more patients. Female physicians typically spend more time in each patient encounter, a trait that is valued by patients but not rewarded by FFS remuneration.
The second issue is stress.
In spite of their increasing numbers, women in medicine still report higher rates of incidents of intimidation, sexual harassment and abuse than their male colleagues.
As well, many female physicians continue to assume primary responsibility for home and family commitments in addition to their practice workload, thus compounding their stress levels.
Female physicians are more likely to work flexible hours; flexibility in work schedules has been the method by which female physicians balance their professional and personal lives. Yet, as they take on more and strive to be more flexible that in itself creates more stress as they battle to be "all things to all people".
The CMA identified the need to address and mitigate the unique demands on women physicians in its 1998 policy on Physician Health and Well-Being. I have brought copies to be shared with you today.
As I mentioned at the start, I am joined today by Dr. Gautam who has considerable expertise in the stressors faced by physicians - and women physicians in particular - and in managing them.
We will be happy to discuss the participation of women in medicine and to answer questions that you may have.
We are very pleased to appear on behalf of the Canadian Medical Association before this Senate committee as part of your study of pandemic preparedness and the H1N1 experience in Canada.
Earlier this year, the CMA collaborated with the College of Family Physicians of Canada and the National Specialty Society of Community Medicine to present a picture of lessons learned from the frontlines of the pandemic.
Together we represent over 80,000 physicians engaged in all aspects of Canada's health care and public health systems.
The report includes recommendations that, if acted upon, would help ensure that a strong foundation is in place to protect Canadians from future health threats.
As President of the CMA and a practising physician, I am here to present my association's point of view.
Physicians have a unique and critical role to play during public health emergencies. Many people turn to their physician first for information and counseling. Physicians are the first line of defence.
This was certainly the case during the H1N1 pandemic. This role was intensified by the confusion created by the great variation in mass vaccination programs across the country.
Many physicians felt that their urgent need for clinically relevant information was not well recognized by the Public Health Agency of Canada, the Public Health Network and, in some cases, provincial, territorial, regional or local levels.
The lack of national leadership on clinical guidance led to delays and the proliferation of differing guidelines across the country.
Standard clinical guidance, adaptable to local circumstances, is the norm in medical practice. Nationally disseminated clinical practice guidelines on vaccine sequencing, use of anti-virals and hospital treatment would have created consistent clinical responses across the country.
We recommend that the Public Health Network seek advanced pan-Canadian commitment to a harmonized and singular national response to clinical practice guidelines, including mass vaccination programs, during times of potential public health crisis.
The CMA also recommends that the Public Health Agency of Canada work closely with the medical specialty societies, as it did successfully with Society for Obstetrics and Gynecology in the development of clinical guidance for the care and treatment of pregnant women.
Many physicians and public health workers have complained that multiple levels of government provided similar, but not identical, advice. The differences led to skepticism among both physicians and the public and the inundation of messages led to overload.
In situations where scientific evidence is rapidly changing, as was the case during the H1N1 pandemic, we need a national communication strategy, targeted to physicians that can build on communication processes already in place.
It is especially important during a health emergency to build on existing systems that work well and can minimize the chances of conflicting messages.
It is also important that two-way lines of communication between public health and primary care are established. Embedding primary care expertise into public health planning at all levels would help us avoid problems and improve our response.
We believe that the H1N1 immunization process did not adequately engage physicians in planning and delivery.
A number of difficulties, such as the impact of bulk packaging, the sequencing of patients and the logistics of inventory management, led to friction between front-line public health practitioners and family physicians.
These could have been avoided with strengthened consultation, interdependence and mutual understanding before the crisis.
A number of witnesses have noted the importance of surveillance. There is no doubt that greater use of electronic medical records - or EMRs - in primary care could have facilitated surveillance and communications.
Family practice clinics with EMRs were able to quickly identify high-risk patients, communicate with them to schedule vaccination appointments, and collect the required data for public health.
Another aspect of pandemic planning that cannot be ignored is the possibility that physicians themselves might fall ill.
Physicians have never hesitated to provide care to patients during times of crisis, but this obligation must be balanced by a reciprocal obligation of society to physicians.
Following the SARS outbreak, the CMA prepared Caring in a Crisis, a policy paper that addresses the need to take into account and plan for what would happen when health care providers become part of the statistics of those infected.
We urge the committee to consider this challenge in your deliberations.
My last point addresses the lack of surge capacity in Canada's health system.
To mount a response to H1N1, public health units pulled human resources from other programs and many critical services were delayed, suspended or cancelled altogether.
The resources of our critical care infrastructure were stretched to their limits in many hospitals and frontline health care providers were inundated with telephone calls and visits from the worried well and an increase in visits from those with flu symptoms.
If H1N1 had been the severe pandemic that was expected and for which Canada had been preparing, our health system would have been brought to its knees.
The CMA has been warning of the lack of surge capacity in our health system for over a decade.
Canada remains vulnerable to the risks presented by epidemics and pandemics. If we are to be prepared for the next emergency, a long-range plan to build our public health capacity and workforce and to address the lack of surge capacity in our health system must become a priority.
We therefore very much appreciate the review to Canada's response to the H1N1 pandemic that has been undertaken by this Committee, and we look forward to your report.
The CMA brief contains seven recommendations to address pressing needs in the health care system.
Before I get to those, I'd like to highlight why, from my perspective, our health care system is in need of the federal government's attention.
Yesterday, at the Ottawa Hospital, where I am Chief of Staff:
* Our occupancy was 100 per cent.
* 30 patients who came to the emergency department were admitted to the hospital, but we had beds for only four of them.
* 10 are still waiting on gurneys in examining rooms within the emergency department.
* Six patients were admitted to wards and are receiving care in hallways.
* Three surgeries were cancelled - bringing the number of cancellations this year to 480.
* But while all this was happening, we had 158 patients waiting for a bed in a long-term-care facility.
Equally, a few blocks from here and in communities across the country, the health status of our poorest and most vulnerable populations is comparable to countries that have a fraction of our GDP - despite very significant investments in their health.
This is just my perspective. Health care providers of all types experience the failings of our system on a daily basis.
We as a country can do better and Canadians deserve better value for their money.
Canada's physicians are calling for transformative change to build a health care system based on the principles of accessibility, high quality, cost effectiveness, accountability and sustainability.
Through new efficiencies, better integration and sound stewardship, governments can reposition health care as an economic driver, an agent of productivity and a competitive advantage for Canada in today's global marketplace.
The Health Accord expires in March 2014, and we strongly urge that the federal government begin discussions now with the provinces and territories on how to transform our health care system so that it meets patients' needs and is sustainable into the future.
Canadians themselves also need to be part of the conversation.
To help position the system for this transformative change, the CMA brief identifies a number of issues that the federal government should address in the short term:
First, our system needs investments in health human resources to retain and recruit more doctors and nurses.
Although we welcome measures in the last budget to increase the number of residency positions, we urge the government to fulfill the balance of its election promise by further investing in residencies, and to invest in programs to repatriate Canadian-trained physicians living abroad.
Second, we need to bolster our public health e-infrastructure so that it can provide efficient, quality care that responds more effectively to pandemics.
We recommend increased investment:
* to improve data collection and analysis between local public health authorities and primary care practices,
* for local health emergency preparedness, and
* for the creation of a pan-Canadian strategy for responding to potential health crises.
Third, issues related to our aging population also call for action.
As continuing care moves from hospitals into the home, the community, or long-term care facilities, the financial burden shifts from governments to individuals.
We recommend that the federal government study options for pre-funding long-term care - including private insurance, tax-deferred and tax-prepaid savings approaches, and contribution-based social insurance - to help Canadians prepare for their future home care and long-term care needs.
And, as much of the burden of continuing care for seniors also falls on informal, unpaid caregivers, the CMA recommends that pilot studies be undertaken to explore tax credit and/or direct compensation for informal caregivers for their work, and to expand programs for informal caregivers that provide guaranteed access to respite services in emergency situations.
Finally, the government should increase RRSP limits and explore opportunities to provide pension vehicles for self-employed Canadians.
Mr. Chair, a fuller set of recommendations is contained in our report -- Health Care Transformation in Canada: Change that Works. Care that Lasts.
These include universal access to prescription drugs; greater use of health information technology; and the immediate construction of long-term care facilities.
We urge the Committee to consider both our short-term recommendations - and our longer term vision for transforming Canada's health care system.
I look forward to your questions. Thank you.
Thank you very much for inviting the Canadian Medical Association back to this committee as you continue your study on healthy living.
A few weeks ago my colleague Dr. Doig was here to talk about the health consequences of poor nutrition and lack of physical activity and the policies CMA has advocated to promote healthy living.
Today I would like to expand upon nutrition labelling and health claims on foods, and on the labelling of foods regulated as natural health products.
Nutrition facts tables can be an important source of information, but many Canadians have difficulty interpreting them. A 2009 Health Canada review of research on nutrition labelling indicated that:
* those with little nutrition knowledge have difficulty using the tables and are unable to relate the information they contain to their own dietary needs; and that
* the concept of percentage of daily value is often misunderstood.
There has been an increase in the use of health claims on the front of packaging expressed as slogans or logos such as "healthy choice," as well as in disease reduction and nutrient content claims.
Studies have shown that foods carrying health-related claims are seen by consumers as healthier choices. But the myriad of different claims can be confusing and may, in fact, draw attention away from the less healthy characteristics of a food, or oversimplify complex nutritional messages.
We believe a standard consistent "at a glance" approach to front-of-package food labelling could reduce confusion and help consumers make informed dietary choices.
The "traffic light" front-of-pack labelling currently in voluntary use in the UK is an example. The front-of-pack labels on composite processed foods use green, amber and red to indicate low, medium or high levels of the nutrients most strongly associated with diet-related health risks: fat, saturated fat, sugars and salt. Also included is calorie count per serving and percentage daily amount information.
Research in the UK has shown that consumers generally understand these labels. Shoppers are most likely to use them when buying a product for the first time; to compare different products; when shopping for children; when trying to control intake of certain ingredients such as fat or salt, for health reasons; or when trying to lose weight.
Not surprisingly, research in the UK and Canada also shows that those most likely to read nutrition labels are those who are already interested in healthy eating.
For this reason, labelling policy must be embedded in a broader nutrition policy that uses multiple instruments to foster education and interest in healthy eating, and helps ensure that Canadians have healthy food choices by, for example, regulating amounts of salt in processed food.
In addition, physicians have become quite concerned about a recent tendency toward regulating 'fortified foods 'as Natural Health Products.
The Food and Drugs Act effectively prevents products classified as foods from being marketed as having medicinal benefits unless there is compelling scientific evidence that the claims are true and the products are safe. The same strong legislation does not apply to Natural Health Products (NHPs), which are regulated under a different act.
This is a concern because a trend is emerging whereby manufacturers of products normally sold as foods fortify their products with approved natural health products such as vitamins or minerals. Examples of these are energy drinks and vitamin-enhanced juice, power bars, gums and candy.
The manufacturer can then request federal approval to market the product as a 'health product in food format.' If approved, food labelling requirements no longer apply and health claims that would not be allowed under the Food and Drugs Act can be made.
Without proper nutrition labelling, it is difficult, if not impossible, for consumers to make informed food choices. This can be particularly troubling for those with special diets or health concerns. Further, those misled by dubious health claims might be consuming empty calories or high amounts of fat or sodium, with no corresponding benefit. The result is that the health of Canadians may be compromised.
The CMA has called on Health Canada to require compelling evidence of health benefits before changing a product's regulatory status from food to natural health product, and nutrition labelling for all foods regulated as a natural health product.
Faced with an array of products and health claims, and a barrage of advertising extolling their benefits, Canadians can find it challenging to make healthier food choices.
To find our way through to the right choice, we need good nutritional information, and the ability to access and understand this information.
Governments and health care providers share a responsibility to help Canadians make choices that will help them achieve and maintain good health. Canada's doctors are partners in healthy living and are ready to work with governments and others toward a healthy population.
I welcome your questions.
Notes for an address by Dr. Eugene Bereza, Chair, Committee on Ethics, Canadian Medical Association : Bill C-6 (An act respecting assisted human reproduction) : Presentation to the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology
My name is Dr. Eugene Bereza. I am a physician and clinical ethicist at McGill University Health Centre in Montreal and Chair of the Canadian Medical Association’s Committee on Ethics. I am accompanied today by Dr. Jeff Blackmer, our Director of Ethics.
I am here today representing the CMA, but I would also like to advocate on behalf of those patients affected by infertility and those patients suffering, or who will suffer, from the myriad diseases for which medical science is searching out a cure.
While there has been considerable debate over the past decade on the moral and ethical issues associated with assisted human reproduction, discussion of this as a health issue has been overlooked all to often.
We must remember this is about the practice of medicine and above all, the health of Canadians.
My remarks today will focus on the inappropriateness of using criminal sanctions to deal with medical and scientific activities.
It is important to make it clear at the outset that the CMA does not oppose the prohibition of certain medical and scientific activities.
Others here today are in a better position to address concerns regarding the specific prohibitions proposed under Bill C-6.
Our issue is the means chosen to give effect to these prohibitions and their potential impact on the ability of a physician to ensure the welfare of his or her patients.
Criminal law is a blunt instrument. As parliamentarians, you know how difficult it can be to change the law.
For some activities prohibited under the criminal law, such as murder and theft, change is not an issue. However, the science of medicine evolves constantly, doubling every 18-24 months.
Advances in science and medical practice, coupled with the difficulty of anticipating new developments, make it difficult to adjust the law to remove criminal prohibitions as science and society changes.
In the context of prohibiting medical and scientific activities, it is the CMA’s position that the use of criminal law is inappropriate, as it would ultimately not serve our patient’s best interests.
Prohibitions, specifically those listed as prohibited activities under Bill C-6, (formerly Bill C-13) could be secured through much less drastic means than criminalization.
The CMA proposes that the determination of permissible activities, temporarily or for the longer-term, should be made by the proposed Regulatory Agency working with up-to-date scientific information while providing for public input and ethical review.
The Regulatory Agency, as proposed in the Bill, would determine if and when changes in health and safety considerations, public attitudes and values might justify allowing certain formerly prohibited activities to take place under specific conditions.
Questions to Consider
Bill C-6 begins with the statement: “This enactment prohibits assisted reproduction procedures that are considered to be ethically unacceptable.” However, many Canadians, especially those who are infertile, do not consider some or all of these procedures to be ethically unacceptable nor do the many physicians charged with their care.
The CMA questions whether criminal prohibitions are appropriate for dealing with activities about which there is considerable ethical disagreement among Canadians.
Legislators in Canada have been justifiably reluctant to use criminal law to deal with medical and scientific issues such as abortion, withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment and the conduct of medical research.
Why is an exception being made for assisted reproduction?
What sort of precedent will this set for other controversial bioethical issues?
What about the chilling effect criminalization will have on research in this important area?
For the CMA, the most important question is: what about the patients?
What about patients suffering from conditions for which research is banned but may lead to a cure?
Should they be denied the opportunity to benefit from this research?
Just as Bill C-6 unfairly targets patients, so too does the Bill’s penalties for infractions.
Jail terms of up to 10 years and fines up to $500,000 will create a climate of fear and excessive caution for physicians and scientists working in this area.
The chill created by these penalties will be such that scientists may well avoid any activity potentially covered by the bill even to the detriment of patient care.
The CMA recognizes the good faith among parliamentarians in proposing statutory bans to prohibit certain activities.
However, we are convinced in this case the potential for harm outweighs the potential benefits.
There is a better way to prohibit these activities while still facilitating important research and necessary treatments.
An Alternative Solution
Instead of instituting criminal prohibitions within the legislation, the CMA suggest the Assisted Human Reproduction Agency of Canada manage procedures deemed permissible by moving the procedures listed under “Prohibited Activities” to “Controlled Activities.” We recommend that criminal sanctions apply to breaches of agency directives such as performing activities prohibited by the agency and performing controlled activities without a license.
Such an approach would have the dual advantage of being able to both prohibit activities deemed unethical while still providing the flexibility to ensure legitimate medical and scientific progress in the treatment of infertility.
The regulatory agency should be established as soon as possible and should build on the experience and expertise of existing assisted reproduction organizations and structures that deal with practice standards, education, certification and accreditation.
The CMA’s overriding concern in addressing this legislation is the well-being of patients, in this case patients who are infertile and patients afflicted by conditions for which medical research offers significant promise of treatment.
We support government efforts to regulate assisted human reproduction and related activities, including the prohibition of certain practices temporarily or permanently where necessary.
However, we do not believe that criminalization of medical and scientific activities named in the bill is an appropriate way to achieve those objectives. We believe we have advanced a workable alternative within the spirit of the Bill.