The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) welcomes the opportunity to provide comments to the Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs concerning its study of Bill C-2 (An Act to amend the Criminal Code and to make consequential amendments to other Acts). We will confine our comments to the portion of the proposed legislation that relates to impaired driving.
Canada's physicians support measures aimed at reducing the incidence of drug-impaired driving. We believe impaired driving, whether by alcohol or another drug, to be an important public health issue for Canadians that requires action by all governments and other concerned groups.
Published reports indicate that the prevalence of driving under the influence of cannabis is on the rise in Canada. We note that:
* Results from the Canadian Addictions Survey suggest that 4% of the population have driven under the influence of cannabis in the past year, an increase from the 1.5% in 2003 and that rates are higher among young people.1
* It was estimated that in 2003, 27.45% of traffic fatalities involved alcohol, 9.15% involved alcohol and drugs, and 3.66% involved drugs alone while 13.71% of crash injuries involved only alcohol, 4.57% involved alcohol and drugs, and 1.83% involved drugs alone.2
* In a 2002 survey, 17.7% of drivers reported driving within 2 hours of using a prescribed medication, over-the-counter remedy, marijuana, or other illicit drug during the past 12 months.
* These results suggest that an estimated 3.7 million Canadians drove after taking some medication or drug that could potentially affect their ability to drive safely.
* The most common drugs used were over-the-counter medications (15.9%), prescription drugs (2.3%), marijuana (1.5%), and other illegal drugs (0.9%).
* Young males were most likely to report using marijuana and other illegal drugs.
* While 86% of the drivers were aware that a conviction for impaired driving results in a criminal record, 66% erroneously believed that the penalties for drug-impaired driving were less severe than those for alcohol-impaired driving. In fact, the penalties are identical.
* Over 80% of drivers agreed that drivers suspected of being under the influence of drugs should be required to participate in physical coordination testing for drug impairment. However, only about 70% of drivers agreed that all drivers involved in a serious collision or suspected of drug impairment should be required to provide a blood sample.3
The CMA has, on several occasions, provided detailed recommendations on legislative changes concerning impaired driving. In 1999, the CMA presented a brief to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights during its review of the impaired driving provisions of the Criminal Code. While our 1999 brief focused primarily on driving under the influence of alcohol, many of the recommendations are also relevant to the issue of driving under the influence of drugs.
In June 2007, the CMA provided comments to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights of the House of Commons during their study of Bill C-32 (An Act to amend the Criminal Code (impaired driving) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts) which was later incorporated in the omnibus Bill now before your Committee.
Last year, the CMA published the 7th edition of its guide, Determining Medical Fitness to Operate Motor Vehicles. It includes chapters on the importance of screening for alcohol or drug dependency and states that the abuse of such substances is incompatible with the safe operation of a vehicle. This publication is widely viewed by clinical and medical-legal practitioners as the authoritative Canadian source on the topic of driver competence.
While changing the Criminal Code is an important step, the CMA believes further actions are also warranted. In our 2002 presentation to the Special Senate Committee on Illegal Drugs, the CMA put forth our long standing position regarding the need for a comprehensive long-term effort that incorporates both deterrent legislation and public awareness and education campaigns. We believe such an approach, together with comprehensive treatment and cessation programs, constitutes the most effective policy in attempting to reduce the number of lives lost and injuries suffered in crashes involving impaired drivers.
Drug-impaired drivers may be occasional users of drugs or they may also suffer from substance dependence, a well-recognized form of disease. Physicians should be assisted to screen for drug dependency, when indicated, using validated instruments. Government must create and fund appropriate assessment and treatment interventions.
Physicians can assist in establishing programs in the community aimed at the recognition of the early signs of dependency. These programs should recognize the chronic, relapsing nature of drug addiction as a disease, as opposed to simply viewing it as criminal behaviour.
While supporting the intent of the proposed legislation, the CMA urges caution on several significant issues, with regard to Clause 20 that amends the act as follows:
254.1 (1) The Governor in Council may make regulations
(a) respecting the qualifications and training of evaluating officers;
(b) prescribing the physical coordination tests to be conducted under paragraph 254(2)(a); and
(c) prescribing the tests to be conducted and procedures to be followed during an evaluation under subsection 254(3.1).
CMA contends that it is important that medical professionals and addiction medicine specialists in particular, should be consulted regarding the training offered to officers to conduct roadside assessment and sample collection.
Provisions in the Act conferring upon police the power to compel roadside examination raises the important issue of security of the person and the privacy of health information. As well, information obtained at the roadside is personal medical information and regulations must ensure that it be treated with the same degree of confidentiality as any other element of an individual's medical record. Thus, the CMA would respectfully submit that Clause 25 of Bill-C2 on the issue of unauthorized use or disclosure of the results needs to be strengthened because the wording is too broad, unduly infringes privacy and shows insufficient respect for the health information privacy interests at stake.
For instance, clause 25(2) would permit the use, or allow the disclosure of the results "for the purpose of the administration or enforcement of the law of a province". This latter phrase needs to be narrowed in its scope so that it would not, on its face, encompass such a broad category of laws.
Moreover, clause 25(4) would allow the disclosure of the results "to any other person, if the results are made anonymous and the disclosure is made for statistical or other research purposes" CMA would expect the federal government to exercise great caution in this instance, particularly since the results could concern individuals who are not actually convicted of an offence.
One should query whether the Clause 25(4) should even exist in a Criminal Code as it would not appear to be a matter required to be addressed. If it is, then CMA would ask the government to conduct a rigorous privacy impact assessment on these components of the Bill, studying in particular, such matters as sample size, degree of anonymity, and other privacy related issues, especially given the highly sensitive nature of the material.
CMA would ask whether clause 25(5) should specify that the offence for improper use or disclosure should be more serious than a summary conviction. Finally, it is important to base any roadside testing methods and threshold decisions on robust biological and clinical research.
CMA also notes with interest Clause 21, specifically the creation of a new offence of being "over 80" (referring to 80mg of alcohol in 100ml of blood, or a .08 blood alcohol concentration level or BAC) and causing an accident that results in bodily harm which will carry a maximum sentence of 10 years and life imprisonment for causing an accident resulting in death. (Clause 21)
We would also urge the Committee to take the opportunity that the review of this proposed legislation provides to recommend to Parliament a lower BAC level. Since 1988 the CMA has supported 50 mg% as the general legal limit. Studies suggest that a BAC limit of 50 mg% could translate into a 6% to 18% reduction in total motor vehicle fatalities or 185 to 555 fewer fatalities per year in Canada.4 A lower limit would recognize the significant detrimental effects on driving-related skills that occur below the current legal BAC.5
In our 1999 response to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights' issue paper on impaired driving6 and again in 2002 when we joined forces with Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), CMA has consistently called for the federal government to reduce Canada's legal BAC to .05. Canada continues to lag behind countries such as Austria, Australia, Belgium, Denmark, France and Germany, which have set a lower legal limit. 7
CMA expressed the opinion that injuries and deaths resulting from impaired driving must be recognized as a major public health concern. Therefore we once again recommend lowering the legal BAC limit to 50 mg%. or .05%.
We also wanted to note our support for Clause 23 which addresses the issue of liability by extending the existing umbrella of immunity for qualified medical practitioners to the new provision under 254(3.4)
23. Subsection 257(2) of the Act is replaced by the following:
(2) No qualified medical practitioner by whom or under whose direction a sample of blood is taken from a person under subsection 254(3) or (3.4) or section 256, and no qualified technician acting under the direction of a qualified medical practitioner, incurs any criminal or civil liability for anything necessarily done with reasonable care and skill when taking the sample.
Finally, CMA believes that comprehensive long-term efforts that incorporate deterrent legislation, such as Bill C-2, must be accompanied by a public awareness and education strategy. This constitutes the most effective long-term approach to reducing the number of lives lost and injuries suffered in crashes involving impaired drivers. The CMA supports this multidimensional approach to the issue of the operation of a motor vehicle regardless of whether impairment is caused by alcohol or drugs.
Again, the CMA appreciates the opportunity to provide input into the legislative proposal on drug-impaired driving. We stress that these legislative changes alone would not adequately address the issue of reducing injuries and fatalities due to drug-impaired driving, but support their intent as a partial, but important measure.
Brian Day, MD
1 Bedard, M, Dubois S, Weaver, B. The impact of cannabis on driving, Canadian Journal of Public Health, Vol 98, 6-11, 2006
2 G. Mercer, Estimating the Presence of Alcohol and Drug Impairment in Traffic Crashes and their Costs to Canadians: 1999 to 2003 (Vancouver: Applied Research and Evaluation Services, 2005).
3 D. Beirness, H. Simpson and K. Desmond, The Road Safety Monitor 2002: Drugs and Driving (Ottawa: Traffic Injury Research Foundation, 2003). Online: www.trafficinjuryResearch.com/whatNew/newsItemPDFs/RSM_02_Drugs_and_ Driving.pdf
4 Mann, Robert E., Scott Macdonald, Gina Stoduto, Abdul Shaikh and Susan Bondy (1998) Assessing the Potential Impact of Lowering the Blood Alcohol Limit to 50 MG % in Canada. Ottawa: Transport Canada, TP 13321 E.
5 Moskowitz, H. and Robinson, C.D. (1988). Effects of Low Doses of Alcohol on Driving Skills: A Review of the Evidence. Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, DOT-HS-800-599 as cited in Mann, et al., note 8 at page 12-13
6 Proposed Amendments to the Criminal Code of Canada (Impaired Driving): Response to Issue Paper of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. March 5, 1999
7 Mann et al
Thank you for this opportunity to appear before this committee on behalf of the CMA and its 76,000 members. Canadians believe that transforming our health care system to meet the needs of 21st century Canada must be among the highest priorities for all levels of government, including the federal government.
I would like to begin by commenting on the health transfer framework announced by the Minister of Finance in December. This announcement provided some predictability for the years ahead.
However, with the federal government reducing its involvement in several areas affecting health or health care, added costs will end up in the laps of the provinces and territories.
So while this budget may enhance the federal government's fiscal prospects, it will do so to the detriment of the provinces and territories.
But there's more to this debate than funding. We believe that Canadians would be better served if federal health care transfers came with specific guidelines ensuring that the system provides care of comparable access and quality to Canadians across the country, regardless of their circumstances.
We are encouraged that the Minister of Health has indicated she wants to collaborate with the provinces and territories on developing accountability measures to ensure value for money and better patient care. We look forward to the
minister's plan for accountability.
This budget is notable for other missed opportunities. For many years, groups across the political spectrum have called for a pharmaceutical strategy to reduce national disparities. In fact, such a strategy was committed to by governments under the 2004 Health Accord.
Minister Kenney referred to this issue indirectly when he said the recent cancellation of supplemental health benefits for refugee claimants is justified because refugees should not have access to drug coverage that Canadians do not have.
Rather than cutting off those desperately vulnerable people, Canada's physicians urge the federal government to work with the provinces and territories to develop a plan that ensures all Canadians have a basic level of drug coverage.
Indeed, we now appear to be in a race to the bottom in the way we treat vulnerable groups - by, for example, deferring Old Age Security for two years; and changing service delivery to veterans, mental health programs for our military and the Employment Insurance program.
Significant policy changes have been announced since the budget, with little opportunity for debate and little evidence provided. We note, as well, the lack of open consultation with Canadians on matters of great import to their lives. Successful policy requires buy-in, which is best achieved when those interested are able to participate in the policy-making process.
This brings me to a wider concern shared by our members - that policy-makers are not paying adequate attention to the social determinants of health, factors such as income and housing that have a major impact on health outcomes. We remind the government that every action that has a negative effect on health will lead to more costs to society down the road.
The federal government is the key to change that benefits all Canadians. While there are costs and jurisdictions to consider, the CMA believes the best way to address this is to make the impact on health a key consideration in every policy decision that's made. The federal government has used this approach in the past, in considering rural Canadians, for example.
We therefore call for a new requirement for a health impact assessment to be carried out prior to any decision made by cabinet. This would require that, based on evidence, all cabinet decisions take into account possible impacts on health and health care, and whether they contribute to our country's overall health objectives. A similar model is in use in New Zealand and some European countries.
For instance, what health impact will cuts in funding to the tobacco strategy have?
Such an assessment would in particular have a dramatic impact with regard to poverty. Poverty hinders both human potential and our country's economic growth - and needlessly so as there are many ways to address it effectively.
The National Council on Welfare - which will disappear as a result of this budget - reported last fall that the amount it would have taken in 2007 for every Canadian to have an income over the poverty line was $12.6 billion, whereas the consequences of poverty that year added up to almost double that figure.
Close to 10 per cent of Canadians were living in poverty in 2009, many of them children, as UNICEF underlined yesterday. This is a huge challenge for our country.
In closing, as this budget cycle ends and as you begin to prepare for the next, please bear in mind that as prosperous as our country is, if we do nothing for the most vulnerable in our society - children, the elderly, the mentally ill, Aboriginal peoples - we will have failed.
The CMA appreciates the opportunity to present to the Standing Committee on Health today.
My presentation will focus on:
1. Wait Times
2. Health Human Resources; and
3. Patient Focused Care
In regard to the issue of wait times, I would echo the two main points of my colleagues from the Wait Time Alliance:
* First, while progress is being made on wait times, that progress is limited and not consistent across the country; and second,
* Health workforce and infrastructure capacity shortages remain the primary barriers to effectively addressing wait times.
Wait times don't only exact a heavy human toll - they also carry severe economic costs.
A CMA-commissioned report released earlier this year found that the economic cost of having patients wait longer than medically recommended was $14.8 billion in 2007. That stunning total was for just four of the five procedures identified as priorities in the 10-year plan - joint replacement, diagnostic imagining and cataract and bypass surgery - and it was only for one year.
Over a million Canadians continue to suffer on wait lists because of deficiencies in our system. This is unacceptable.
We need to "break the back" of wait times for the sake of our patients and for the economic health of Canada.
This will require:
* More federal leadership, not less;
* A revolutionary change in the "focus" of our health care system; and
* Substantial investments.
Health Human Resources
The 10-Year Plan to Strengthen Health Care acknowledged the need to increase the supply of health care professionals in Canada. However, not enough progress has been made.
Canada is 26,000 doctors short of the average of developed countries, and we now rank a lowly 24th among OECD countries in doctors per population.
A poll released today by the CMA found that Canada's doctor shortage ranked second only to the economy as a top public issue. In this same poll, 91% of Canadians say having a plan to address the doctor shortage will influence their vote in the next federal election. Federal political parties who ignore this issue in the next election could pay a price at the polls.
In the 10-year plan to strengthen health care, $1-billion was set aside for the last four years (2010-2014) of the agreement. We can't afford to wait that long.
This funding should be immediately fast-tracked to focus on the three priority areas in the CMA's "More Doctors. More Care" Campaign:
* One, expanding health professional education and training capacity;
* Two, ensuring self sufficiency in health human resources by investing in long-term health human resource planning; and.
* Three, investing in health information technology to make our health care system more responsive and efficient.
In terms of IT, we should be ashamed that we only spend a third of the OECD average on IT in our hospitals. Canada's poor record in avoidable adverse effects is, in part, due to our system's inability to share available information in a timely manner.
Patient Focused Care
Many countries have systems that provide universal care, have no wait lists and cost the same or less to run as our system does. Wait lists can and must be eliminated in Canada. The momentum to do just that depends simply on making the system work for patients, not on forcing patients to work the system.
We must reposition patients to the centre of our health-care system, which requires that we move beyond block funding or global budgets for health institutions. We need a system where funds follow the patient - patient-focused funding.
Block funding blocks access. Patient-focused funding will increase productivity, lead to greater efficiencies and reduce wait lists. A patient will become a value to an institution, not a cost.
Canada remains the last country in the developed world to fund hospitals with block funding. In England, patient-focused funding helped eliminate wait lists in less than four years.
So, my question to the Committee is why do we wait?
Why do we continue to keep patients on wait lists when research shows it costs a lot less to cut wait times then it does to have them?
Why do we not make the necessary reforms and investments to provide Canadians with timely access to quality care?
Good afternoon. My name is Dr. Maura Ricketts and I am the Director of Public Health for the Canadian Medical Association. The CMA appreciates the opportunity to appear before this Committee today as part of your study of clinical trials and drug approvals.
The CMA represents more than 76,000 physicians in Canada. Its mission is to serve and unite the physicians of Canada and to be the national advocate, in partnership with all Canadians, for the highest standards of health and health care.
Because prescription drugs are an essential component of health care, the CMA has developed a considerable body of policy on pharmaceutical issues. This work can be distilled into one fundamental principle: The CMA believes that our country requires a National Pharmaceutical Strategy to ensure every individual has timely access to safe, effective and affordable prescription drugs. Despite the commitment in the 2004 Health Accord to the creation of such a strategy, Canadians continue to wait for government leadership on this issue. Drugs replace more costly and invasive medical interventions. They are an essential tool in the physician's tool box.
To ensure safety and effectiveness, the CMA also believes in the need for a strong, unbiased, evidence-based system for research and approval. This is at the heart of our commitment to patient-centred care.
In evaluating whether to prescribe a new drug to a patient, a physician will weigh several factors: Does this product offer any benefits over what I am prescribing now? Will it be more effective? Will this new drug be safer? Will it solve any tricky clinical problems, such as drug interactions, or reduce side effects that prevent a medication from being used properly? The physician may also ask: What is the evidence that this new drug is an improvement? Can I trust the evidence? Where can I get access to accurate, reliable information and data on this drug?
Pre-approval drug research must provide answers to these fundamental questions.
I will now focus on two particular issues of concern to practising physicians with regard to clinical trials:
* First, what is being compared to what? Clinical trials may be sufficient for Health Canada's regulatory purposes, but may provide only part of the information a physician needs. For example, is a new cholesterol drug effective on all patients, or only on some of them? Would other patients derive equal benefit from an already existing drug, or from a lifestyle change such as diet or exercise? The CMA recommends that researchers compare a new product to other drugs on the market - and to other interventions, as well.
* Second, is timely, reliable and objective information available on all clinical trial results, not just the positive ones? Canadians need to be informed when a drug has performed disappointingly in trials if they are to make informed decisions about their health care. The CMA, therefore, recommends the results of all clinical trials, not just those with positive results, be made available to health professionals and the public.
I would like to add that the current documentation is not very user-friendly. We recommend that Health Canada prepare summaries of the most essential data, not only for physicians, but for all Canadians to be able to access this information.
The Drug Approval Process
Turning now to the drug approval process, the CMA believes the following principles should apply:
* The primary criteria for approval should be whether the drug improves health outcomes and offers an improvement over products currently on the market.
* The review process should be as timely as is consistent with ensuring optimal health outcomes and the safety of the drug supply.
* The review process should be impartial and founded on the best available scientific evidence.
* The review process should be open and transparent.
* Finally, approval of a drug is not an endpoint, but rather one step in that drug's life cycle. It is not uncommon to identify serious safety hazards after a drug has been approved, because that's when it first goes into wide use. It is important that the approval process be complemented by a rigorous and vigilant post-market surveillance process. We look forward to presenting our recommendations on this subject to your Committee at a future session.
Before closing, I would like to briefly address two other matters:
First, the issue of drugs for rare disorders. We are aware that the current clinical trial and approval processes, which place a high value on studies with large population samples, may be unable to adequately capture the value of drugs that are prescribed to only a handful of people. Some patient groups active in the area of rare disorders, such as the Canadian MPS Society and Alpha-1 Canada, have shared their concerns about this with us. These groups, along with the Canadian Organization for Rare Disorders, have been advocating for years for a fair process for evaluating drugs for rare diseases. Because Canada doesn't have a rare disorders strategy, Canadian patients have access to fewer therapies than patients in other developed countries. The issue of how to approve drugs for rare disorders merits closer consideration. The CMA recommends that the federal government develop a policy on drugs for rare disorders that encourages their development, call for ongoing evaluation of their effectiveness, and ensures fairness so that all patients who might benefit have reasonable access to them.
The second matter is that Health Canada's review process provides little guidance on another question which physicians are increasingly asking: Can my patient afford this drug? It is not sufficient that the Common Drug Review conducts reviews of the cost effectiveness of drugs and that provincial/territorial formularies undertake similar studies, as the fact remains that cost is one of the factors physicians need to consider when deciding whether to prescribe a new drug. This is especially true in the case of new biologics, which are very expensive. Canadian doctors believe that the difficulty of making effective prescribing decisions without information about cost needs to be overcome. This only underscores the necessity of a National Pharmaceutical Strategy.
Thank you. We would be happy to answer your questions.
On behalf of the Canadian Medical Association (CMA), I want to thank you for the opportunity to provide the following information to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology during its review of the service sector in Canada. The committee's study of the strengths and challenges facing this sector, overall employment percentage, overall average of salaries across the sector its impact on Canada's overall economy and the role of the Government of Canada in strengthening this sector comes at an opportune time.
CANADA'S HEALTH SERVICES SECTOR
Canada's health services sector is facing a critical shortage of physicians and other health care professionals and the CMA and our over 67,000 physician members are pleased to have the opportunity to present practical solutions within the jurisdiction of the federal government - working collaboratively with provincial/territorial governments and other health system stakeholders.
Health care delivery in Canada is a $160 billion industry, representing over 10% of our country's gross domestic product (GDP).1 The 30,120 physicians' offices across Canada make important contributions to our economy. In 2003, the latest year for which data are available, offices of physicians employed 142,000 Canadians and contributed $11.6 billion to the Canadian economy.2 This represents almost 39 per cent of all Health Service Delivery establishments, and almost 11% of all HSD employees. As a standard measure of economic productivity, physician offices report the highest levels of GDP per employee within the Health Service Delivery sector. On this measure, they are approximately twice as productive as other components of Health Service Delivery.
There are simply not enough physicians to continue providing the quality health care that Canadians expect and deserve. Here are the facts:
- Almost 5 million Canadians do not have access to a family physician;
- By 2018 an additional 4.5 million Canadians could be without a doctor;
- Canada ranks 24th in Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) nations in terms of physicians-per-population ratio. Canada would need 26,000 more doctors right now to meet the OECD average;
- Canada spends only a third of the OECD average on information technology (IT) and diagnostic equipment in our hospitals; and
- Canada has the highest hospital occupancy rate of all OECD countries and among the highest waits for access to specialty care services.
The lack of physicians and other health care providers has resulted in restricted access to health care services and the growth of wait times for necessary medical procedures. In January 2008, CMA released new research by the Centre for Spatial Economics that proved that, in addition to the human health cost, waiting for care results in dramatic and excessive costs to our economy. Researchers addressed just four priority areas targeted in the 2004 First Ministers Health Accord. They used government and other data to determine how many Canadians were waiting longer than the maximum medical consensus established by the Wait Time Alliance.
Selected for analysis were: joint replacement, cataract surgery, heart bypass grafts, and MRI scans. Costs, as calculated for all provinces varied from $2,900 to over $26,000 per patient. The cumulative cost of waiting in 2007, for treatment in just 4 areas, was $14.8 billion.
This reduced economic activity lowered government revenues in 2007 by $4.4 billion. That is equivalent to over 1/3rd of the total Ontario health budget. The reduction in economic activity included the impact of the patient's inability to work while waiting, and direct losses from decreased production of goods and services, reduced income, and lowered discretionary spending.
It is important to note that the figure of 14.8 billion dollars is based only on patients that exceed designated maximum waiting times in just 4 clinical areas. In the example of hip replacements, the research only factored in costs for waits that exceed 6 months. Of those waiting longer than the maximum recommended time, average waits were 1 year for hip and knee replacement surgery, 7 months for cataract surgery, and twice maximum for heart bypass surgery. Those who didn't make the MRI target waited an average of 12 weeks.
Reduced economic activity included informal caregiver costs. These costs are generated when caregivers reduce work hours to care for family members on wait lists, or attend appointments with family members. Patients languishing on wait lists also incur additional costs for drug and other treatments that timely care would eliminate.
Estimates in this study are extremely conservative. They address only the wait time to treatment after a specialist's consultation and recommendation. And exclude the growing, and significant costs of waiting to see the GP or specialist. They do not include anyone who is not working. They do not include the costs, short and long term, of the deterioration that occurs while waiting.
To solve Canada's doctor shortage, the CMA believes governments must:
- Adopt a long-term policy of self-sufficiency to provide Canadians with the health care professionals they need when and where they need them;
- Establish a dedicated health human resource renewal fund to educate, retain and enhance the lives of health care professionals; and
- Invest in health technology, infrastructure and innovation to make our health care system more responsive and efficient.
Over the past decade, there have been increasing concerns that Canada is not producing an adequate number of health providers to meet the growing demand for health services - now and into the future. These concerns have been consistently registered by physicians, nurses, pharmacists, technicians, in addition to other groups that represent other providers and the institutional and heath facilities community.
Furthermore, the policy challenges related to health human resources (HHR) have been identified in several seminal reports - including the Royal Commission on the Future of Health Care in Canada, the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science & Technology, and the Health Council of Canada.3
A growing number of health providers are looking to retire over the next decade (or leave the health system all together) relative to the number of trainees who are entering the health system, and at a time where a growing number of Canadians will be turning to the health system for diagnosis and treatment. Over 6% of physicians who responded to the National Physician Survey 20074 said they plan to retire from clinical practice and 1% plan to permanently leave practice for other reasons in the next 2 years. The effect of these changes could mean that, as the baby boom generation gets older, over 4,000 physicians will cease their medical practice within the next 2 years, making it even more difficult for Canadians to find a family physician.
At the same time, the HHR challenges facing Canada's health care system are not unique to our country - over the next decade all western developed countries can expect intensified global competition for talent when it comes to health providers.5
While there are, no doubt, other provider groups who are also concerned about the future supply of health providers, there is a growing national consensus that, in addition to the primary role that the provinces and territories play in supporting the training of health providers across the country, there is a significant, catalytic and strong complementary role for the federal government in the area of health human resources.
CMA, like many health care organizations, is of the view that there is a legitimate role for the federal government to strengthen its working relationship with the provinces and territories, and health providers through the creation of a time-limited, issue-specific and strategically-targeted fund to accelerate training capacity in the health system.
The World Medical Association's ethical guidelines for international recruitment of physicians16 (2003), fully supported by the CMA, recommend that every country "should do its utmost to educate an adequate number of physicians, taking into account its needs and resources. A country should not rely on immigration from other countries to meet its need for physicians."7 However, in reality Canada continues to rely heavily on recruitment of internationally educated health professionals. Approximately one-third of the increase in physician supply each year is due to International Medical Graduates (IMGs) who are either recruited directly to practice or who have taken significant postgraduate medical training in Canada. In nursing, the number of internationally educated nurses applying for licensure is increasing rapidly, almost tripling from 1999 to 2003.
Previous recommendations of the CMA to the House of Commons included improved medium- to longer-term supply projection models; sufficient opportunities for Canadians to train for health professional careers in Canada; and integration of international graduates, who are permanent residents or citizens of Canada, into practice. The CMA recognizes that professionals are working in an increasingly global world in terms of the exchange of scientific information, mutual recognition of qualifications between countries and the movement of people.
The greatest barrier to enhancing Canada's ability to become more self-sufficient, in terms of physician resources, is the capacity of our medical schools. Despite recent increases in enrolment, Canada continues to turn away approximately 3 equally qualified students for every 1 that is accepted into an undergraduate medical program. This has resulted in over 1500 Canadian students, with the financial means to do so, who are training in medical schools outside of Canada.
INTERNATIONAL MEDICAL GRADUATES
In the larger context, Canada's current fertility rate is not sufficient to support self-sufficiency in general in relation to any professions. And, while self-sufficiency in the production of physicians is a desirable goal, it is also important to promote the international exchange of teaching and research, particularly in an increasingly global society. In this regard, IMGs should be considered as a planning component for a sustainable Canadian physician workforce. Historically IMGs have entered the practice of medicine through a variety of routes, which most typically include a recognized period of post-MD training in Canada.
CMA's best estimate is that there are about 400 IMGs newly licensed to practice in Canada each year who have not completed postgraduate training in Canada. In addition, there are another 300 or so who are exiting Canadian postgraduate training programs and heading into practice. In fact, for the past few years, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario has licensed more IMGs than new Ontario medical graduates.
In recent years, there have been an increasing number of opportunities for IMGs already living in Canada to achieve the required credentials for licensure. The number of ministry-funded IMG postgraduate residents has more than tripled in the past seven years from 294 to 1065 trainees. In 2007, there were almost 1500 IMGs who were qualified to compete in the Canadian Resident Matching Service (CaRMS) match. By the end of the second round, close to 300 had matched and about 60 were placed through other provincial programs.
The federal government should make a clear policy commitment to increasing self-sufficiency in the education and training of health professionals in Canada that would incorporate the following.
- Short term - increase number of community preceptors to train Canadian graduates and assess internationally educated health professionals already living in Canada. Recognition of the time and value of community teaching is needed.
- Medium term - support increased capacity for academic health science centres and other institutions that train health professionals.
- Long term - creation of new academic health science centres to increase capacity for self-sufficiency.
REPATRIATING CANADIAN DOCTORS WORKING ABROAD
It is known that there are thousands of Canadian-trained health professionals practising in the United States and abroad. Between 1991 and 2004, almost 8,000 physicians left Canada (although some 4,000 returned for a net loss of 4,000).8 Of this number, roughly 80% went to the US.9 During the 1990s, approximately 27,000 nurses migrated from Canada to the US.1011 A more recent indicator of nursing outmigration is that in 2006, 943 Canadian-trained Registered Nurses and Licensed Practical Nurses wrote the US licensing board examination for the first time.12 Data for other health professional disciplines are not readily available.
In 2007, with the assistance of the American Medical Association, the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) surveyed all (n=5,156) Canadian-trained physicians practicing in the US who were age 55 or under, with regard to the likelihood of their return to Canada and the importance of various factors that might be incentives to return. A 32% response rate was achieved with a single mailing with no follow-up - this is considered exceptionally high.
While only 13% of respondents indicated that they were likely or very likely to return to Canada, a further 25% were neutral in their opinion. What is more telling is that more than one-half of respondents indicated that they would be willing to be contacted by CMA to explore practice opportunities and provided their contact information for this purpose. When asked about a range of potential incentives to return to Canada, 57% agreed that a relocation allowance would be somewhat or very important.13 It must be stressed, however, that it is clear from the results that a number of factors would need to be taken into consideration, such as practice opportunities. This would also be true of other disciplines; in the case of nursing, nurses will only come back for full-time jobs and healthy work environments.14
Nonetheless, expatriate Canadian medical graduates should be good candidates for recruitment on the basis of the greater likelihood that they will meet Canadian standards for full medical licensure, and it is expected that this would also apply to nursing and other disciplines.
As well, significant progress has been made in restoring and adding capacity to our medical schools but, to achieve self-sufficiency, much more needs to be done. For example, we must try and repatriate Canadian medical students and doctors who are studying and working abroad. There are currently some 1500 Canadian medical students and residents training abroad, we must act now, before things get worse.
During that past few years there have been efforts to enhance national coordination in the health human resources arena. One area of national focus has been the integration of International Medical Graduates, since extended to nursing and other disciplines. There have been several initiatives undertaken in this area such as the establishment of the Canadian Information Centre for International Medical Graduates15 which provides a clearinghouse of information and links to provincial/territorial jurisdictions.
Relocation grants, from $10,000 up to $20,000 could be offered to Canadian-trained physicians practising in the US. It is suggested that advertising be concentrated in and around US cities where Canada maintains a consulate/office (in states with a significant concentration with recruitment candidates) and in major national and selected state health professional journals. The cost of a repatriation secretariat is estimated at $162,500 per year. Assuming that 1,500 health professionals are recruited back over the 3-year period, the total cost would range from $21.5 million to $36.5 million.
This would further translate to a per recruit cost that ranges from $14,325 to $24,325. Even at the high end of the range this would be cost-effective as compared to the total cost of training a practice-entry level graduate of any licensed health professional discipline in Canada.
In light of the foregoing, the CMA has recommended that the federal government should establish a Health Professional Repatriation Program in the amount of $30 million over 3 years that would include the following:
- secretariat within Health Canada that would include a clearinghouse function on issues associated with returning to Canada such as licensure, citizenship and taxation;
- An advertising campaign in the US to encourage health professionals practicing south of the border to return home; and
- A program of one-time relocation grants for health professionals returning to active practice in Canada.
NATIONAL HEALTH HUMAN RESOURCES INFRASTRUCTURE FUND
The implementation of Medicare in Canada in the 1960s required a major investment in the capacity to train more health professionals. The 1966 Health Resources Fund Act played a key role in enabling a significant expansion in training capacity across the provinces for a range of health professionals. Forty years later, Canada faces growing shortages across most health disciplines. Clearly another giant step up is required in the human and physical infrastructure needed to train health professionals if Canadians are to have timely access to care.
During the years of fiscal famine of the 1990s, health professional enrolment was either reduced (e.g., 10% in the case of medicine) or flat-lined. While there have been increases since 2000, we are about to face the double impact of both an aging population as the first of the baby boomers reach 65 in 2011 and aging health professions. For example, more than 1 out of 3 physicians (35%) are aged 55 or older. As mentioned, as many as 4,000 physicians are expected to retire in the next 2 years.
If we are going to have sufficient numbers of health providers to meet the needs of the next few decades, it is imperative to expand the human and physician infrastructure capacity of our health professional education and training system. The federal investments in health human resources over 2003-2005 of some $200 million have been welcome, but fall far short of what is needed.
It is proposed that the federal government implement a National Health Human Resources Infrastructure Fund in the amount of $1 billion over 5 years that would be made available to the provinces/territories on an equal per capita basis, and awarded through a competitive process that would include federal/ provincial/territorial representation with consultation/engagement of health professional organizations. The fund would address the following elements:
1. The direct costs of training providers and developing leaders (e.g., cost of recruiting and supporting more community- based teachers/preceptors).
2. The indirect or infrastructure costs associated with the educational enterprise (e.g., physical plant [housekeeping, maintenance]; support for departments [information systems, library resources, occupational health, etc.]; education offices, and the materials and equipment necessary for clinical practice and practical training.
3. Resources that improve the country's overall data management capacity when it comes to health human resources, and in particular, facilitate the ability to model and forecast health human resource requirements in the face of the changing demand for health services.
Clearly it would be necessary to develop guidelines around the types of expenditures that would be eligible as was done for the 1966 Health Resources Fund, and more recently for the Medical Equipment Fund II.
The federal government should establish a National Health Human Resources 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
- resources that improve Canada's data collection and management capacity in the area of health human resources.
More than 85% of the health care delivered in Canada occurs within the community. This is the most under-invested segment of the health care delivery system in terms of information technology. Dr. Brian Postl in his June 2006 wait-time report16 to the federal government noted health information technology is essential in improving wait times. He quantified the investment needed at $2.4 billion with the largest portion of this investment ($1.9 billion) targeted to automating physician offices, which are located at the front line of care in community settings and are key to managing and resolving the wait time issue in Canada.
Why invest in physician office automation? Because it will lead to improved productivity from the provider community through more efficient resource usage and through improved coordination in the delivery of care; it will enable labour mobility of health care workers through portability of records; it will support the wait time agenda by improving the flow of timely information; it will build an electronic infrastructure platform to enhance patient care and health research and will provide a direct financing vehicle for the federal government to influence and shape the health care sector.
The federal government has made similar types of infrastructure investment. The CFI Program was established to fund research infrastructure, which consists of the state-of-the-art equipment, buildings, laboratories and databases required to conduct research. Investing in EMR infrastructure will lead to the creation of state of the art clinical environments across Canada, electronic data base of health information and the foundational underpinnings of a health information network to support enhanced population health and health research.
Under this scenario the federal contribution would provide a direct benefit to physicians without any need for provincial or territorial involvement. Second, the federal government could use existing government machinery to manage the program. Third, the federal contribution to infrastructure would only flow after a physician has introduced an EMR into his/her clinic ensuring that the funding is directly tied to building the EMR infrastructure platform.
The recent National Physician Survey notes that some progress is being made across the country to automate community clinics. However without incentives the adoption trend will be incremental and extend over a further 20-year time frame. Financial incentives can shorten the timelines since it addresses one of the main adoption barriers physicians identify.17
Diffusion theory18 of new technologies into any sector of the economy demonstrates that without appropriate incentives it will take approximately 25 years the technology to reach the saturation point of integration. It is estimated that a financial incentive can shorten this timeline by 15 years.
The federal government, over a 5-year time frame, should provide a full tax credit to any physician who takes the steps to automate his or her clinical office. The tax credit would only apply to 1-time costs to establish a state of the art clinical environment. It is estimated, on average, 1-time costs would be $22,000. Total costs of the program if fully subscribed would amount to $880 million.
The health services sector makes significant contributions to the Canadian economy, both in terms of direct stimulus and by keeping Canadians healthy and productive. However, Canada's health services sector is facing a critical shortage of physicians and other health care professionals. By:
- Adopting a long-term policy of self-sufficiency to provide Canadians with the health care professionals they need when and where they need them;
- Establishing a dedicated health human resource renewal fund to educate, retain and enhance the lives of health care professionals;
- Investing in health technology, infrastructure and innovation to make our health care system more responsive and efficient;
the federal government, in partnership with provincial/territorial governments and other health system stakeholders can strengthen this sector. A strong health services sector means healthy Canadians and a vibrant Canadian economy.
Again, on behalf of the Canadian Medical Association, Canada's doctors appreciate the opportunity to provide information to the Committee.
Brian Day, MD
President, Canadian Medical Association
1 National Health Expenditure Trends, 1975-2007. Canadian Institute for Health Information. 2007
2 Source: Business Register (STC 2003) and TIM (Informetrica Limited)
3 The Royal Commission on the Future of Health Care in Canada, November 2002. Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science & Technology, October 2002. The Health Council of Canada "Modernizing the Management of Health Human Resources in Canada: Identifying Areas for Accelerated Change: November 2005.
4 The National Physician Survey is a major ongoing research project conducted by the College of Family Physicians of Canada, Canadian Medical Association and Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada that gathers the opinions of all physicians, 2nd year medical residents and medical students from across the country. It is the largest census survey of its kind and is an important barometer of where the country's present and future doctors are on a wide range of critical issues.
5 The Economist, The Battle for BrainPower - A Survey of Talent, October 7, 2006.
7 World Medical Association. The World Medical Association Statement on Ethical Guidelines for the International Recruitment of Physicians. Geneva: The World Medical Association; 2003. Available: www.wma.net/e/policy/e14.htm
8 Canadian Institute for Health Information.
2. Canadian Institute for Health Information.
10 Zaho J, Drew D, Murray T. Barin drain and brain gain: the migration of knowledge workers from and to Canada. Education Quarterly Review 2000;6(3):8-35.
12 Little L, Canadian Nurses Association, personal communication, January 8, 2008.
13 Buske L. Analysis of the survey of Canadian graduates practicing in the United States. October 2007. http://www.cma.ca/multimedia/CMA/Content_Images/Policy_Advocacy/Policy_Research/US_survey_ver_4.pdf. Accessed 02/04/08.
14 Little L, Canadian Nurses Association, personal communication, January 28, 2008.
16 Postl, B. Final Report of the Federal Advisor on Wait Times. Ottawa: Minister of Health Canada, Health Council of Canada; 2005.
17 Canadian Medical Association/Canada Infoway. Physician Technology Usage and Attitudes Survey. Ottawa: CMA/CanadaInfoway; 2005. Available: www.cma.ca/index.cfm/ci_id/49044/la_id/1.htm (accessed 8 Jan 2008).
18 Bower, Anthony. The Diffusion and Value of Healthcare Information Technology. Santa Monica (CA): RAND Corporation; 2005
Question 1: Economic recovery and growth (What federal measures are required for sustained economic recovery and growth?)
The health sector has an important role in sustaining Canada's economic recovery and enhancing economic growth beginning with supporting a healthy and productive workforce and providing over one million high value jobs, representing about 10 per cent of the labour force.
Despite the importance of the sector, there is general agreement that Canada's health care system is no longer a strong performer when compared to similar nations. While the OECD's 2011 Health Data ranks Canada 7th highest of 34 member states in per capita health care spending, the performance of Canada's health care system continues to rank below most of our comparator countries.
Health spending accounts for an increasing proportion of provincial and territorial budgets, and many warn of increasing future demands on the overall system. In his Economic and Fiscal Outlook Report of May 17, 2012, the Parliamentary Budget Officer stated that "the provincial-territorial long-term fiscal situation has deteriorated." Taken together, these issues highlight significant potential for the health sector, through efficiency improved gained by health care transformation, to support long-term economic recovery and growth in Canada.
While the provinces and territories have initiated positive steps to collaborate on sharing best practices, there are key responsibilities under federal leadership that would contribute to these efforts by addressing the overall performance of the health care system in Canada. The CMA recommends that:
- The federal government recognize the relationship of the social determinants of health on the demands of the health care system and that it implement a requirement for all cabinet decision-making to include a Health Impact Assessment (see Question 5 for more detail).
- Further to the comments by the Health Minister following the new fiscal arrangement announcement, the federal government should prioritize federal-provincial-territorial engagement focused on accountability and undertake a consultative process with the aim of identifying pan-Canadian metrics and measurement that will link health expenditures and comparable health outcomes.
Question 2: Job creation (What federal actions should be taken to promote job creation in a context of enhanced internal and international trade?)
A high performing health care system across the country will help support labour mobility and job creation. An effective, comprehensive public health care system provides an important international competitive advantage. The contribution of Canada's health care system to the international competitiveness of our economy has been repeatedly demonstrated in KPMG's Competitive Alternatives report.
However, there are several signs that indicate health care services and coverage are not keeping up with Canadians' needs and vary depending on where one lives in Canada. For instance, long wait times for medical care can be found in smaller provinces, while drug coverage and services for seniors are particularly poor in Atlantic Canada. Wide variation in access to pharmaceutical treatments remains the most glaring example of inequity in our health care system-all Canadians should have a basic level of drug coverage. These variations are growing and will hinder job creation in some regions, serving as barriers to labour mobility for Canadians wishing to seek work elsewhere in the country. We believe that Canadians would be better served if federal health care transfers came with specific guidelines ensuring that the system provides care of comparable access and quality to Canadians across the country, regardless of their circumstances.
Recognizing the contribution of the health care system to Canada's international competitive advantage, improvements in Canada's health care system would further support job creation. The federal government should focus its efforts towards supporting the transformation of our health care system to better meet the objectives of better care, better health and better value. The CMA recommends that:
- The federal government, in consultation with provincial, territorial and other stakeholders, establish a program of comprehensive prescription drug coverage to be administered through reimbursement of provincial/territorial and private prescription drug plans to ensure that all Canadians have access to medically necessary drugs.
- The federal government, together with the provinces and territories, develop and implement a pan-Canadian strategy for continuing care which would integrate home care and facility- based long-term, respite and palliative care services fully within health care systems.
Question 3: Demographic change (What federal measures should be implemented to help address the aging population and skills shortages?)
The CMA remains concerned about the status of Canada's retirement income system and the ability of Canada's seniors to adequately fund their long-term and supportive care needs. Steps need to be taken to ensure that Canada is prepared to handle the long-term care needs of its citizens, including the funding of necessary infrastructure and additional support for both health care providers and informal caregivers.
The availability of long-term care facilities has an important role in the efficiency of the overall health care system. For example, in its most recent report, the Wait Time Alliance noted that dementia is a key diagnosis related to the rise in alternate-levels-of-care (ALC) patient stays in hospitals. This is yet another issue facing all provinces and territories for which the federal government is well positioned to coordinate a pan-Canadian strategy. In addition, as part of the next long-term infrastructure program, the federal government should include a targeted health sector infrastructure fund for long-term care facilities as part of a pan-Canadian strategy to redirect care from the hospitals to homes, communities and long-term care facilities, where better care is provided at a lower cost.
The CMA recommends that:
- The federal government establish programs to encourage Canadians to save for their long- term care needs by pre-funding long-term care, including private insurance, tax-deferred and tax-prepaid savings approaches, and contribution-based social insurance, such as an RESP- type savings vehicle.
- That a targeted health infrastructure fund be established as part of the government's long- term plan for public infrastructure. The purpose of this fund would be to address infrastructure shortages in the health sector that prevent the optimization of health human resources and exacerbate wait times.
The CMA has supported the federal government's efforts to expand retirement savings options by establishing the Pooled Retirement Pension Plans. However, as highlighted by federal, provincial and territorial finance ministers, this is only one component of a larger pension reform framework to address the retirement income adequacy needs of Canadians. The CMA encourages the federal government to continue working with the provinces, territories and stakeholders to implement all elements of this framework.
Question 4: Productivity (What federal initiatives are needed to increase productivity in light of labour market challenges such as the aging of Canada's population?)
An effective and comprehensive health care system supports the productivity of the Canadian workforce. Failure of our health care system to respond to workers' health needs, on the other hand, leads to loss of productivity and high costs both in terms of lost income for Canadian families as well as foregone tax revenues for governments. Numerous studies have pointed out the enormous cost of waiting (in the billions of dollars per year) affecting both individuals and the economy.
Another related issue that has the potential to increasingly affect productivity is the burden of providing care to family members. Without adequate provision of long-term care resources and support for home care, Canada's labour force may experience a productivity drag through increased leaves and absenteeism to care for elderly relatives.
The 2011 federal budget took a first step at providing tax relief for informal caregivers through the Family Caregiver Tax Credit. However, this credit of a maximum of $300 per year by no means provides sufficient support for informal caregivers.
A 2004 Canadian study estimated that the annual cost of a caregiver's time at market rates for moderately to severely disabled home care clients ranged from $5,221 to $13,374 depending on the community in which they reside. An increase to the Family Caregiver Tax Credit is positive for the development of one aspect of the necessary support informal caregivers require but the CMA believes other enhancements will also be needed in the coming years.
In order to meet the needs of our country's aging population, the CMA recommends that:
- The federal government expand the relief programs for informal caregivers to provide guaranteed access to respite services for people dealing with emergency situations, as well as increase the Family Caregiver Tax Credit to better reflect the annual cost of family caregivers' time at market rates.
- That a targeted health infrastructure fund be established as part of the government's long-term plan for public infrastructure. The purpose of this fund would be to address infrastructure shortages in the health sector that prevent the optimization of health human resources and exacerbate wait times.
Question 5: Other challenges (Who is facing most challenges, what are they and what federal action is required?)
Despite significant investments in health and improvements in medical treatment and technologies, health outcomes in Canada have not been moving in the right direction. Chronic diseases such as diabetes and the corresponding risk factors, among them obesity, continue to rise. These negative outcomes can have a significant impact on the prosperity of the country as health is necessary for individuals to lead a prosperous and autonomous life. Research suggests that 50 per cent of population health is determined by our social and economic environment. While a strong health care system is vital, changes to medicare alone will not improve health outcomes or reduce the disparities that currently exist in disease burden and health risks.
What is needed is a process to address the social determinants of health that can be barriers or enablers to health, a process to ensure healthy public policy for all Canadians. A Health Impact Assessment (HIA) is a systematic process for making evidence-based judgments on the health impacts of a policy and to identify and recommend strategies to protect and promote health. HIA is used in several countries, including Australia, New Zealand, Norway, the Netherlands and the United States. HIA is also used in Canada, most extensively for policy appraisals in Quebec.
HIA is necessary for ensuring that all government departments are able to consider the health impacts of their work. Such a tool would have been very beneficial in assessing cuts to program spending to ensure the impact on health would not be counterproductive (i.e., lead to higher overall costs to society once the health impact is taken into account). The adoption of an evidence-based HIA is one way in which the federal government can play a leadership role in health care. The CMA recommends that:
- The federal government include a Health Impact Assessment as part of its policy development process to ensure that the health of Canadians is a key factor in every policy decision it makes.
- The federal government recognize the relationship of the social determinants of health on the demands of the health care system.
As previously indicated in the Retirement Income Improvement Coalition's (RIIC) letter to the Minister of Finance on August 10, 2011, the CMA supports the federal government's proposal to expand access to pensions, specifically by establishing a legislative and regulatory framework to permit pooled registered retirement plans (PRPPs).
The CMA is concerned that as currently proposed, the PRPP framework, including Bill C-25 and the proposed legislative amendments to the Income Tax Act, would limit the potential for PRPPs to contribute to expanding access to, and investment in, pensions for self-employed individuals.
With respect to the pension framework, a critical issue, two principles are central to the CMA's membership of over 76,000 physicians. These are, to encourage the federal government to: 1) ensure that self-employed Canadians can retire with an appropriate level of retirement income (e.g., a 70% of pre-retirement income target); and, 2) expand the retirement savings options that are available to self-employed Canadians. The CMA's comments herein on the proposed amendments to the Income Tax Act are in support of these two principles.
As elaborated below, the CMA encourages the federal government to:
1. Increase the retirement savings capacity of self-employed individuals by raising the combined limit for RRSPs;
2. Expand the PRPP framework to include defined benefit and targeted benefit pension plans; and,
3. Clarify the eligibility criteria of "PRPP administrators" to include professional associations.
1. Increase the combined contribution limit for PRPPs and RRSPs
As proposed, it is our understanding that the core benefit of the PRPP framework is in providing smaller businesses access to low-cost pension plans, thereby providing a vehicle to encourage employers to establish, and contribute to, pensions for their employees. While the CMA recognizes the value of, and supports, this objective, this proposal in effect maintains the status quo for self-employed individuals.
Under Clause 10 of the proposed amendments to the Income Tax Act, the contribution limit to PRPPs would be calculated as an additional component of the current registered retirement savings plan (RRSP) contribution limit. As outlined in the Explanatory Notes, "an employer's contributions to an individual's PRPP account [and...] an individual's PRPP contributions in a taxation year will immediately reduce the individual's ability to make deductible RRSP contributions in that same year."
While individuals with employer contributions stand to benefit from increased retirement savings via employer contributions, self-employed individuals are merely provided with access to an alternate retirement savings vehicle. As explained in the Summary Report on Retirement Income Adequacy Researchi, "[h]igher income groups tend to exhibit a greater tendency to substitute one form of saving for another since they tend to be bound by limits...[I]f newly introduced plans are included in limitations imposed on the degree to which contributions may be deductible for tax purposes, saving may not increase for individuals who are constrained (i.e. saving up to their limit), since they would more likely substitute one type of saving for another (e.g., RRSP for a private pension plan)."
Therefore, the CMA encourages the federal government to consider increasing the retirement savings capacity of self-employed individuals by raising the combined limit for RRSPs and PRPPs.
2. Include defined benefit and targeted benefit pension plans
As noted under Clause 12, the registration criteria for PRPPs will be established by the PRPP Act, Bill C-25. Of concern, Bill C-25 limits PRPPs to defined contribution pension plans by specifically excluding from eligibility of registration: (a) a pension plan as defined by 2(1) of the Pension Benefits Standards Act; (b) an employees' or a deferred profit sharing plan; (c) an RRSP or a retirement compensation arrangement defined by 248(1) of the Income Tax Act; and, (d) any other prescribed plan or arrangement.
As highlighted by the Summary Report on Retirement Income Adequacy Research, "defined benefit pension funds and annuities enable investors to share longevity risks as well as pool risky investments to diversify risk." By pooling risk, defined benefit and targeted benefit pension plans provide more secure savings vehicles than defined contributions plans. The CMA encourages the federal government to expand the PRPP framework to include defined benefit and targeted benefit pension plans. While the CMA will advance this recommendation to the House of Commons Finance Committee during its consultation on Bill C-25, we include it as part of this submission as modifications to the proposed amendments to the Income Tax Act would be required.
3. Clarify the eligibility criteria of "PRPP administrators" to include professional associations
Further clarification is required on the type of organization that may qualify as a PRPP administrator. As noted under Clause 12, an administrator of a PRPP is authorized under the PRPP Act. As Bill C-25, the PRPP Act, is still in the legislative process, the CMA will elaborate on this issue during the formal Parliamentary consultation.
However, as it stands, further clarification is required on the eligibility criteria proposed by Bill C-25. While Bill C-25 can be interpreted to extend administrator eligibility to organizations that are able to fulfill the criteria established by the PRPP Act, Finance Canada's Framework for PRPPs states that eligibility of administrators would be limited to "regulated financial institutions that are capable of taking on a fiduciary role". Well-governed professional organizations that represent a particular membership should be able to sponsor and administer RPPs and PRPPs for their own members, including self-employed members.
While the CMA supports the proposed PRPP framework in principle, the proposed limitations to PRPPs should be addressed to ensure that they also provide value to self-employed Canadians, including physicians. The CMA appreciates the opportunity to comment on the proposed amendments to the Income Tax Act and to once again advance recommendations to Finance Canada on the PRPP framework.
i Prepared for the Research Working Group on Retirement Income Adequacy of Federal-Provincial-Territorial Ministers of Finance.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) appreciates the opportunity to provide additional comments and recommendations as part of Finance Canada's 2012 pre-budget consultations.
The health sector provides essential services and high value jobs supporting communities across Canada. Statistics Canada reports that employment in the health sector accounts for 10% of the Canadian labour force.i In considering possible additional economic stimulus measures that build on the success of Canada's Economic Action Plan, the CMA encourages the federal government to consider investments that target efficiency improvements in the health sector. Efficiency improvements in the health sector yield benefits to all orders of government and Canadians.
The following recommendations are advanced for Finance Canada's consideration:
* In order to improve the delivery of better care, better health, and better value, the CMA recommends that the federal government work with the provinces, territories and health sector stakeholders to develop a model for accountability and patient-centred care. The CMA encourages the federal government to adopt the Principles to Guide Health Care Transformation, developed by the CMA together with the Canadian Nurses Association and since endorsed by over 60 organizations, as the basis of a pan-Canadian model for accountability and patient-centred care.
* Recognizing the significance of nationally comparable metrics on health outcomes and the health care system together with the effectiveness of national public reporting in demonstrating accountability, the CMA recommends that the federal government undertake efforts towards identifying pan-Canadian metrics and measurement that will link health care expenditures to comparable health outcomes.
* As the federal government prepares to engage with the provinces and territories to further map out improvements to Canada's health system, the CMA strongly encourages consideration be given to the federal role in coordinating the development of pan-Canadian clinical practice guidelines (CPGs).
* While, as previously indicated, the CMA supports the federal government's proposal to expand access to pensions, specifically by developing pooled registered retirement plans (PRPPs), the limitations to PRPPs should be addressed to ensure that they provide value to self-employed Canadians, including physicians. Specifically, addressing the limitations would include: (1) expanding the PRPP framework to include defined benefit and targeted benefit pension plans; (2) increasing the retirement savings capacity of self-employed individuals by either raising the RRSP limit or providing a distinct limit for PRPPs; and, (3) ensuring the PRPP framework expands the eligibility of administrators beyond financial institutions.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) appreciates the opportunity to provide additional recommendations to the Government of Canada as part of its 2012 Pre-Budget consultation. Building upon the CMA's recommendations to the House of Commons' Finance Committee, this submission focuses on three issues: (1) improving accountability and patient-centred care in the delivery of new federal health care funding; (2) coordinating the development of pan-Canadian clinical practice guidelines; and (3) addressing limitations in the federal framework for pension reform.
1. Accountability and patient-centred care
"Raising sufficient money for health is imperative, but just having the money will not ensure universal coverage. Nor will removing financial barriers to access through prepayment and pooling. The final requirement is to ensure resources are used efficiently." World Health Organization (2010)
As the federal government finalizes the Strategic and Operating Review and considers other measures to eliminate the deficit, including scaling down the Economic Action Plan, it must be recognized that improved health systems and the resultant improved productivity pay economic dividends for the country; and, further, that "health" by today's standards is not just the assessment and treatment of illness, but also the prevention of illness, and the creation and support of social factors that contribute to health should also be considered.
With the recent announcement by Minister Flaherty with respect to the Canada Health Transfer (CHT) and Canada Social Transfer (CST), the financial parameters for future health care funding have been established.
Consistent with previous public opinion research, recent polling by Ekos Research Associates shows that 76% of Canadians identify improving health care as the leading priority for the federal government, ahead of reducing the national debt and deficit.ii However, as we have learned with the 2004 Health Accord, funding alone is not sufficient to ensure Canadian taxpayers benefit from improvements in health care, health outcomes, and value for money.
Despite laying out laudable objectives, progress to improve our health care system has been slow following the 2003 and 2004 agreements. There is a general agreement that Canada's health care system is no longer a strong performer when compared to similar nations. The OECD's Health Data, 2011 ranks Canada eighth highest of 34 member states in per capita health care spending, the second highest in hospital spending per discharge, and the seventh lowest in the number of physicians per capita. While Canada outperforms the U.S. on most measures, we fall below the median performance of the OECD on common health quality and system measures. With the new health care funding commitment to 2024, it is now time to plan how to transform the health care system.
Principles-based approach is required
The CMA is advocating built-in accountability mechanisms to ensure Canada's health care system is focused on delivering improved patient outcomes. Developing a system that is accountable and patient-centred depends on continuously striving to achieve the Institute for Healthcare Improvement's (IHI) Triple Aim objectives of better care, better health and better value. Launched in 2007, the IHI Triple Aim initiative was designed to direct the improvement of the patients' experience of care (including quality, access, and reliability) while lowering the per capita cost of care.
It was with the Triple Aim objectives in mind that the CMA jointly developed Principles to Guide Health Care Transformation in Canada with the Canadian Nurses Association (CNA). It is our strong belief that discussions about the future of health care in Canada must be guided by these principles.
The CMA-CNA principles are summarized as follows:
* Patient-centred: Patients must be at the centre of health care, with seamless access to the continuum of care based on their needs.
* Quality: Canadians deserve quality services that are appropriate for patient needs, respect individual choice and are delivered in a manner that is timely, safe, effective and according to the most currently available scientific knowledge.
* Health promotion and illness prevention: The health system must support Canadians in the prevention of illness and the enhancement of their well-being, with attention paid to broader social determinants of health.
* Equitable: The health care system has a duty to Canadians to provide and advocate for equitable access to quality care and commonly adopted policies to address the social determinants of health.
* Sustainable: Sustainable health care requires universal access to quality health services that are adequately resourced and delivered across the board in a timely and cost-effective manner.
* Accountable: The public, patients, families, providers and funders all have a responsibility for ensuring the system is effective and accountable.
In order to ensure that future federal funding delivers on the Triple Aim objectives of better care, better health and better value, a model for accountability and patient-centred care is required. Such a model would expand upon the CMA-CNA Principles through the development of a set of measurable indicators related to each principle that can be used for setting national standards, monitoring progress and demonstrating accountability to Canadians.
The CMA therefore urges the federal government to facilitate discussions with the provinces and territories to identify how resources will be used to improve patient care and health outcomes across the country. To this end, the CMA has urged the Minister of Health to move quickly to engage the provincial and territorial health ministers on transforming the health care system.
The CMA recommends that the federal government work with provinces and territories, in consultation with national health sector stakeholders, to develop a model for accountability and patient-centred care. The CMA encourages the federal government to adopt the CMA-CNA Principles to Guide Health Care Transformation as the basis of a pan-Canadian model for accountability and patient-centred care.
Improving public reporting: The cornerstone of accountability
The federal government has a significant stake in national public reporting on the health of Canadians and on the performance of the health care system. As required by the Canada Health Act, the Minister of Health must publicly report administration, operation and adherence to the Act each year. Further, as the largest contributor to the single-payer system, the federal government has a unique role in demonstrating value for money and reporting on strategies to improve the quality, effectiveness and sustainability of the health care system. To facilitate public reporting, in addition to Statistics Canada, the federal government is supported by the Health Council of Canada and the Canadian Institute for Health Information, both established as government-funded non-profits, however, with distinct mandates.
Despite pan-Canadian efforts such as provincial health quality councils and federal and non-governmental reporting, there remains significant room for improvement in the area of monitoring and reporting, both on health outcomes and system performance. As noted in the Commonwealth Fund's report on international health care systems, "reporting on health system performance [in Canada] varies widely across the provinces and territories...there is so far little connection between financial rewards and public reporting of performance." Not surprising, this issue was also identified by the Health Council of Canada in its Progress Report 2011. It highlights the challenges in reporting progress and explains the difficulties inherent to the current patchwork, "[w]here provinces and territories had set and publicized targets, it was easier for us to track progress. Where we could not find targets, assessing progress was more difficult."
The CMA has long supported improved pan-Canadian public reporting on health and health care. Most recently, the CMA hosted a symposium with health reporting stakeholders to discuss the current status of national reporting and the need for the development of a pan-Canadian reporting framework. As recognized by the symposium's participants, there is a great deal of excellent data collection work occurring across the country. However, these efforts are largely uncoordinated and do not tell the full story of the health of Canadians or adequately assess the performance of the health care system. Indeed, despite an abundance of metrics and measurement, in many cases, data is not necessarily usable by the public or decision-makers and, unfortunately, is not necessarily comparable between jurisdictions.
The CMA recommends that the federal government recognize the significance of nationally comparable metrics on health and the health care system and national public reporting in demonstrating accountability (i.e. better health, better care, and better value). In achieving these objectives, the CMA recommends that the federal government mandate an appropriate national organization, such as the Health Council of Canada, to undertake a consultative process with the aim of identifying pan-Canadian metrics and measurement that will link health expenditures and comparable health outcomes.
2. Coordinate the development of pan-Canadian Clinical Practice Guidelines
As the federal government prepares to engage with the provinces and territories to further map out improvements to Canada's health system, the CMA strongly encourages consideration be given to the federal role in coordinating the development of pan-Canadian clinical practice guidelines (CPGs). Such a role would build upon the commitment made by the provinces and territories under the auspices of the Council of the Federation to collaborate on the development of three to five CPGs over the coming year.
CPGs are systematically developed, evidence- or consensus-based statements to assist health care providers in making decisions about the most appropriate health care to be provided in specific clinical circumstances. There is compelling evidence in the literature, supported by the experience of other countries, that well-designed and disseminated CPGs can enhance the clinical behaviour of providers and provide a positive impact on patient outcomes.
The principle argument in support of CPGs is their ability to enhance quality of care and patient outcomes. In addition, CPGs have been found to:
* Provide publicly accessible descriptions of appropriate care by which to gauge health care performance;
* Help to reduce inappropriate variations in care across diverse geographical and clinical settings;
* Offer the potential of empowering patients as to appropriate care expectations; and,
* Contribute to public policy goals, such as cost containment, through encouraging more appropriate provider use of resources.
However, in the absence of a pan-Canadian approach, CPGs across Canada are of uneven quality and even excellent guidelines may not be effectively disseminated or implemented. In contrast to Canada, peer-nations such as the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia have committed at a national level to support the development and dissemination of CPGs.
In November 2011, the CMA, together with leading national medical and health sector stakeholders, convened a Canadian Clinical Practice Guidelines Summit, attended by representatives of the federal and most provincial and territorial governments, to explore key components of a pan-Canadian strategy on CPGs. Emerging from this summit was a clear consensus that it was the federal role to provide the infrastructure support necessary to facilitate the development and dissemination of high-quality CPGs, customizable to the needs of all jurisdictions in Canada.
Guideline development and implementation is a complex, lengthy and resource-intensive process. In the absence of federal coordination in Canada, guidelines are produced by disparate, disease-specific groups, often funded by the pharmaceutical industry. This creates an obvious potential for conflict of interest where the guideline development process is far from transparent. Many guidelines are published without disclosure on conflict of interest or methodology applied. Concern over the quality of guidelines presents one the most persistent barriers to adoption by physicians of the recommended practice. The resulting underutilization of CPGs in Canada is widely documented. Clearly, the development and dissemination of pan-Canadian CGPs present a unique and significant opportunity for improvement in Canada's health care system.
The CMA recommends that as part of further discussions with the provinces and territories, the federal government commit to working with the provinces, territories and health sector stakeholders towards the development of a pan-Canadian clinical practice guideline initiative. In particular, the CMA recommends that the federal government commit support for the infrastructure necessary for the development, maintenance, and active dissemination of relevant, high-quality clinical practice guidelines.
3. Address the limitations proposed under the pension reform framework
As previously indicated in the August 2011 submission to Finance Canada by the Retirement Income Improvement Coalition (RIIC), the CMA supports the federal government's proposal to expand access to pensions, specifically by developing pooled registered retirement plans (PRPPs).
While we are currently assessing the package of proposed Income Tax Act amendments and will provide more detailed comments as part of the legislative process, the CMA is concerned that the framework, as proposed, limits the potential for PRPPs to expand physician access to, and investment in, pensions.
Based on preliminary analysis, it is our understanding that the core benefit of the PRPP framework is in providing small businesses access to low-cost pension plans, thereby providing a vehicle to encourage employers to establish, and contribute to, pensions for their employees. Given that a significant proportion of physicians are self-employed, they would not benefit from employer contributions to a PRPP. Further, as proposed, the contribution limit to PRPPs would be calculated as an element of the current RRSP and pension contribution limit. Finally, further clarification is required on the type of organization that may qualify as a PRPP administrator. Well-governed organizations that represent a particular membership should be able to sponsor and administer RPPs and PRPPs for their own members, including self-employed members.
While the CMA supports the proposed PRPP framework in principle, the limitations to PRPPs should be addressed to ensure that they provide value to self-employed Canadians, including physicians.
The CMA recommends that Finance Canada consider amendments to the proposed Income Tax Act amendments to address limitations to PRPPs, specifically: (1) expanding the PRPP framework to include defined benefit and targeted benefit pension plans; (2) increasing the retirement savings capacity of self-employed individuals by either raising the RRSP limit or providing a distinct limit for PRPPs; and, (3) ensuring the PRPP framework expands the eligibility of administrators beyond financial institutions.
The comments and recommendations provided herein represent the CMA's priority recommendations for targeted federal funding towards the achievement of efficiency improvements in Canada's health sector.
It is the CMA's position that these measures will contribute to a healthy, more productive and innovative economy by contributing to better care, better health and better value in the health care system.
Once again, the CMA appreciates the opportunity to provide these additional comments and recommendations.
i 2006 Census data
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) supports the Government of Canada's efforts to improve Canada's retirement income system, specifically by establishing a legislative framework to permit pooled registered pension plans (PRPPs) as proposed in Bill C-25, the PRPP Act.
The CMA has long supported the Government of Canada's efforts to expand access to pensions, including by permitting PRPPs. However, the CMA is concerned that as currently proposed, Bill C-25 limits the potential for PRPPs to expand the access to, and investment in, pensions of self-employed individuals.
The CMA has participated in, and made recommendations to, Finance Canada over the course of the department's multi-year consultative process, including responding to the 2010 consultative paper Ensuring the Ongoing Strength of Canada's Retirement Income System. The CMA has also made recommendations to Finance Canada as a member of the Retirement Income Improvement Coalition (RIIC), which consists of 11 national professional associations representing over 1 million self-employed professionals. The following discussion and recommendations align with those previously made by the CMA and the RIIC.
The pension framework is a critical issue to CMA's membership of over 76,000 physicians. In addressing the pension framework, including permitting PRPPs, two principles are central to the CMA's membership: to ensure that self-employed Canadians can retire with an appropriate level of retirement income (e.g., a target of 70% of pre-retirement income); and, to expand the retirement savings options that are available to self-employed Canadians.
The CMA's comments herein, and recommendations to the Finance Committee to amend Bill C-25, are in support of these two principles. As elaborated below, the CMA encourages the Finance Committee to:
1. Amend Bill C-25 to raise the combined limit for RRSPs and PRPPs in order to increase the retirement savings capacity of self-employed individuals.
2. Amend Section 12(1) of Bill C-25 to expand the PRPP framework so it includes defined benefit and targeted benefit pension plans, which provide more secure savings vehicles than defined contributions plans.
3. Ensure the eligibility clauses of Bill C-25 (Sections 14-26) would allow well-governed professional organizations that represent a particular membership to be able to sponsor and administer RPPs and PRPPs for their own members, including self-employed members.
1. Increase the combined contribution limit
It is our understanding that the core benefit of the proposed PRPP framework is in providing smaller businesses access to low-cost pension plans, thereby providing a vehicle to encourage employers to establish, and contribute to, pensions for their employees. However, as explained by the Explanatory Notes accompanying the proposed Income Tax Act amendments, "an employer's contributions to an individual's PRPP account [and...] an individual's PRPP contributions in a taxation year will immediately reduce the individual's ability to make deductible RRSP contributions in that same year." While the CMA recognizes the value of, and supports, this objective, this proposal in effect maintains the status quo for self-employed individuals.
Like the Canadian population at large, physicians represent an aging demographic - 38% of Canada's physicians are 55 or older - for whom retirement planning is an important concern. In addition, the vast majority of CMA members are self-employed physicians and, as such, they are unable to participate in workplace registered pension plans (RPPs). At present, physicians are more reliant on registered retirement savings plans (RRSPs) relative to other retirement savings vehicles.
While individuals with employer contributions stand to benefit from increased retirement savings via employer contributions, self-employed individuals are merely provided with access to an alternate retirement savings vehicle. As explained in the Summary Report on Retirement Income Adequacy Researchi, "[h]igher income groups tend to exhibit a greater tendency to substitute one form of saving for another since they tend to be bound by limits...[I]f newly introduced plans are included in limitations imposed on the degree to which contributions may be deductible for tax purposes, saving may not increase for individuals who are constrained (i.e. saving up to their limit), since they would more likely substitute one type of saving for another (e.g., RRSP for a private pension plan)."
Therefore, the CMA encourages the Finance Committee to consider amending Bill C-25 to increase the retirement savings capacity of self-employed individuals by raising the combined limit for RRSPs and PRPPs.
2. Include Defined Benefit and Targeted Benefit Pension Plans
As currently proposed, Section 12(1) of Bill C-25 limits PRPPs to defined contribution pension plans by specifically excluding from eligibility of registration: (a) a pension plan as defined by 2(1) of the Pension Benefits Standards Act; (b) an employees' or a deferred profit-sharing plan; (c) an RRSP or a retirement compensation arrangement defined by 248(1) of the Income Tax Act; and, (d) any other prescribed plan or arrangement.
As highlighted in the Summary Report on Retirement Income Adequacy Research, "defined benefit pension funds and annuities enable investors to share longevity risks as well as pool risky investments to diversify risk." By pooling risk, defined benefit and targeted benefit pension plans provide more secure savings vehicles than defined contribution plans. The CMA encourages the Finance Committee to amend Bill C-25 to expand the PRPP framework to include defined benefit and targeted benefit pension plans.
3. Clarify the eligibility criteria of "PRPP administrators" to include professional associations
Further clarification is required on the type of organization that may qualify as a PRPP administrator under Bill C-25. While Sections 14-26 of Bill C-25 can be interpreted to extend administrator eligibility to organizations that are able to fulfill the criteria it establishes, Finance Canada's Framework for Pooled Registered Retirement Plans states that eligibility of administrators would be limited to "regulated financial institutions that are capable of taking on a fiduciary role."
The CMA encourages the Finance Committee to ensure that the eligibility clauses of Bill C-25 would allow well-governed professional organizations that represent a particular membership to be able to sponsor and administer RPPs and PRPPs for their own members, including self-employed members.
While the CMA supports the proposed PRPP framework in principle, the limitations currently proposed by Bill C-25 should be addressed to ensure that PRPPs also provide value to self-employed Canadians, including physicians. The CMA appreciates the opportunity to comment to the Finance Committee as part of its study of Bill C-25.
Summary of Recommendations
Amend Bill C-25 to raise the combined limit for RRSPs and PRPPs in order to increase the retirement savings capacity of self-employed individuals.
Amend Section 12(1) of Bill C-25 to expand the PRPP framework so it includes defined benefit and targeted benefit pension plans, which provide more secure savings vehicles than defined contributions plans.
Ensure the eligibility clauses of Bill C-25 (Sections 14-26) would allow well-governed professional organizations that represent a particular membership to be able to sponsor and administer RPPs and PRPPs for their own members, including self-employed members.
i Prepared for the Research Working Group on Retirement Income Adequacy of Federal-Provincial-Territorial Ministers of Finance.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to provide this submission to the House of Commons Health Committee for consideration as part of its study on drug supply in Canada. The severe impact of the disruption in production at one pharmaceutical company's manufacturing facility has demonstrated the significant shortcomings in how drug shortages are managed in Canada. This submission focuses on what is needed to ensure Canada's health care system delivers patient-centred care.
In order to deliver the best possible care to patients, physicians require timely, comprehensive and accurate information about current and anticipated drug supply shocks and constraints. With this objective in mind, we have provided input to the government and to the pharmaceutical industries. Further, Canada requires an uninterrupted supply of medically necessary medication for patients.
Impacts on Patients and the Health Care System
Canada's doctors are deeply concerned about the persistent shortages of drugs that they and their patients are encountering. Prescription drugs can prevent serious disease, reduce hospital stays, replace surgical treatment and improve a patient's capacity to function productively in the community. Pharmaceuticals benefit the health care system by reducing costs in other areas such as hospital stays and disability payments. Disruptions in the supply of pharmaceuticals can impact patient care, patient health and the efficiency of the overall health care system.
At the CMA, patient organizations are telling us about the anxiety, pain and harm that drug shortages are inflicting on patients. Below are excerpts of these experiences:
* According to the Brain Injury Association of Canada: "Any drug medication shortage endangers Canadian patients. In the brain injury community, anti-depressants are prescribed to some, as is pain medication, so if there is a shortage some members in the community will be endangered even if the medication is altered."
* The interim-president of the Canadian Arthritis Patient Alliance, Louise Bergeron, wrote CMA to say: "Actually, I have had this happen to me on three occasions and it is quite scary when you know you will not have access to certain drugs for an extended period of time, since you know your health will be on the line."
* Sharon Baxter, Executive Director, of the Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association, says: "All are encouraging the government to find a solution very quickly as pain medication at the end of life is essential and urgent. I don't think we are at the stage where people are dying without access, but getting to that end is totally unacceptable in a country like Canada."
Among the impacts of drug shortages are:
* delays in access to needed medication;
* delays or disruptions to clinical treatment;
* delayed or cancelled surgeries;
* loss of therapeutic effectiveness when an appropriate alternate therapy is not available;
* increased risk of side effects when alternate therapies are used; and
* increased non-compliance when patients, particularly those on long-term therapy, find it harder to comply with a new medication regime.
Any one of these situations can impact patient health, particularly in patients with complex problems. In many instances, this in turn leads to a greater demand on the health care system, whether in physician visits or emergency room treatments.
In a survey of physicians conducted by the CMA in 2011, two-thirds of respondents said that the shortage of generic drugs had had negative consequences for their patients or practice.
Of these physicians, 22 per cent indicated that the consequences were that their patient suffered clinical deterioration because an alternate drug was substituted. Similarly, in a survey of pharmacists by the Canadian Pharmacists Association in 2011, 69 per cent of respondents indicated that they believed that patients' health outcomes had been adversely affected by drug shortages.
Notably, of the physicians who indicated the shortage of generics resulted in consequences to their patients or practice, 28 per cent reported that their patient did not fill the substitution prescription due to the cost of the medication. Numerous respondents raised concerns about the financial impact of substitute medications on patients.
Survey responses also shed light on the increased demand on the health care system created by the lack of information on drug shortages provided to physicians. When physicians are not made aware of a drug shortage, and prescribe that medication, they later have to provide the patient with a new prescription, which often requires an additional patient visit. Better informing physicians about drug shortages can reduce demand on the health care system by eliminating the inefficiencies associated with drug shortages.
Scope of Drug Shortages
In an attempt to outline the scope of the problem, the Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health (CADTH) stated that:
"It is difficult to quantify and determine the extent of drug shortages in Canada because manufacturers are not required to report disruptions in drug supply to Health Canada and because there is no single accountable Canadian organization that provides system-wide drug distribution oversight."i
Surveys by the CMA and the Canadian Pharmacists Association (CPA) shed light on the lack of drug shortages management in Canada. Taken together, the results of these surveys paint an alarming picture of drug shortages management in Canada and underscore the need to improve our system.
In terms of notification, the majority of physicians and pharmacists indicated they never (51 per cent and 29 per cent) or infrequently (32 per cent and 33 per cent) receive advance notice of shortages. Ironically, given the high proportion of pharmacists reporting they never or infrequently receive notice, 65 per cent of physicians indicated that they receive notification from pharmacists. Meanwhile, 30 per cent of physicians also indicated that they were notified of drug shortages by their patients.
Alarmingly, 81 per cent of the pharmacists surveyed indicated they had trouble locating medications to fill a prescription during their last shift prior to completing the survey and 93 per cent had difficulty over the week prior.
This is not a new problem, but since we surveyed CMA members in the fall of 2011, the situation has worsened. Currently about 250 medications are listed on Canadian drug shortage websites. Before the dire impact of the loss of production at Sandoz, Canadian hospitals were already dealing with shortages in the supply of sterile injectables - critical in specialties like surgery, oncology and anesthesia.
What Canada's Doctors Require to Provide Care
Physicians have expressed their frustration at the time it takes to find an appropriate drug for substitution - time taken from the physician, the pharmacy and the patient. Time better spent with patients is being used by physicians to work with pharmacists to identify alternative drugs and therapies.
Of greatest concern are those drugs that are single sourced. When single source medications are in short supply, there are no clear substitutes. The impact of this is being felt now in hospitals across the country as they grapple with the loss of numerous Sandoz products and are forced to ration the remaining stock.
The majority of physicians surveyed by the CMA indicated that greater knowledge of drug supply issues would allow them to deliver better patient care.
To this end, the CMA strongly supports the development of a comprehensive system for monitoring and responding to domestic shortages of medically necessary drugs. Canada needs a sustainable, adequately resourced system to: identify shortages, rapidly and proactively inform health care professionals, and respond quickly to allocate supply as needed to resolve shortages.
The CMA has provided input to both industry and government on the key information needs of doctors. These are:
* Information about the product in short supply;
* Expected duration of the shortage;
* Therapeutic alternatives;
* Regions affected;
* Notification of the end of the shortage.
While the recent establishment of the online inventories by the pharmaceutical industry associations marks an improvement in Canada's management of drug shortages, significant issues remain to be addressed. These include the need for: complete and more consistent information; automatic notifications to alert physicians, pharmacists and other health care providers; a mechanism to prevent potential disruptions; and a mechanism to seek new or interim sources of supply during a shortage.
The CMA recognizes that other countries are also grappling with drug shortages. Canada must also work with its partners abroad to find an international solution to this phenomenon.
Drug shortages management in Canada has significant shortcomings that impact patients, doctors and the health care system. With the current shortage of injectable drugs teetering on the verge of a crisis, quick action and cooperation are required to address the supply shock.
The CMA calls on Members of Parliament to exercise leadership to ensure that Canada's health care providers have access to the information necessary for them to care for their patients, and that Canadians have access to medically necessary drugs.
i Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health. (2011) "Environmental Scan: Drug Supply Disruptions." Ottawa: CADTH, accessed online at: http://www.cadth.ca/media/pdf/Drug_Supply_Disruptions_es-18_e.pdf, 1.