Helping physicians care for patients
Aider les médecins à prendre soin des patients
Canada is a nation on the precipice of great change. This change will be driven primarily by the economic and social implications of the major demographic shift already underway. The added uncertainties of the global economy only emphasize the imperative for federal action and leadership.
In this brief, the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to present four recommendations to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance for meaningful federal action in support of a national seniors strategy; these are essential measures to prepare for an aging population.
Canada's demographic and economic imperative
In 2011 the first of wave of the baby boomer generation turned 65 and Canada's seniors population stood at 5 million.1 By 2036, seniors will represent up to 25% of the population.2 The impacts of Canada's aging population on economic productivity are multi-faceted.
An obvious impact will be fewer workers and a smaller tax base. Finance Canada projects that the number of working-age Canadians for every senior will fall from about 5 today to 2.7 by 2030.3
The projected surge in demand for services for seniors that will coincide with slower economic growth and lower government revenue will add pressure to the budgets of provincial and territorial governments. Consider that while seniors account for about one-sixth of the population, they consume approximately half of public health spending.4 Based on current trends and approaches, seniors' care is forecast to consume almost 62% of provincial/territorial health budgets by 2036.5
The latest fiscal sustainability report of the Parliamentary Budget Officer explains that the demands of Canada's aging population will result in "steadily deteriorating finances" for the provinces and territories and they "cannot meet the challenges of population ageing under current policy."6
Theme 1: Productivity
A) New federal funding to provincial/territorial governments
Canada's provincial and territorial leaders are aware of the challenges ahead. This July, the premiers issued a statement calling for the federal government to increase the Canada Health Transfer to 25% of provincial and territorial health care costs to address the needs of an aging population.
To support the innovation and transformation needed to address these needs, the CMA recommends that the federal government deliver additional funding on an annual basis beginning in 2016-17 to the provinces and territories by means of a demographic-based top-up to the Canada Health Transfer (Table 1). For the fiscal year 2016-17, this top-up would require $1.6 billion in federal investment.
Table 1: Allocation of the federal demographic-based top-up, 2016-20 ($million)7
All of Canada
Newfoundland and Labrador
Prince Edward Island
B) Federal support for catastrophic drug coverage
A major gap in Canada's universal health care system is the lack of universal access to prescription medications, long recognized as the unfinished business of medicare. Canada stands out as the only country with universal health care without universal pharmaceutical coverage.8
According to the Angus Reid Institute, more than one in five Canadians (23%) report that they or someone in their household did not take medication as prescribed because of the cost during the past 12 months.9 Statistics Canada's Survey of Household Spending reveals that households headed by a senior spend $724 per year on prescription medications, the highest among all age groups and over 60% more than the average household.10 Another recent study found that 7% of Canadian seniors reported skipping medication or not filling a prescription because of the cost.11
In addition to the very real harms to individuals, lack of coverage contributes to the inefficient use of Canada's scarce health resources. While there are sparse economic data in Canada on this issue, earlier research indicated that this inefficiency, which includes preventable hospital visits and admissions, represents an added cost of between $1 billion and $9 billion annually.12
As an immediate measure to support the health of Canadians and the productivity of the health care sector, the CMA recommends that the federal government establish a new funding program for catastrophic coverage of prescription medication. The program would cover prescription medication costs above $1,500 or 3% of gross household income on an annual basis. Research commissioned by the CMA estimates this would cost $1.48 billion in 2016-17 (Table 2). This would be a positive step toward comprehensive, universal prescription drug coverage.
Table 2: Projected cost of federal contribution to cover catastrophic prescription medication costs, by age cohort, 2016-2020 ($ million)13
Share of total cost
Under 35 years
35 to 44 years
45 to 54 years
55 to 64 years
65 to 74 years
75 years +
Theme 2: Infrastructure and communities
All jurisdictions across Canada are facing shortages in the continuing care sector. Despite the increased availability of home care, research commissioned for the CMA indicates that demand for continuing care facilities will surge as the demographic shift progresses.14
In 2012, it was reported that wait times for access to a long-term care facility in Canada ranged from 27 to over 230 days. It is estimated that 85% of "alternate level of care" patients in hospitals (i.e., patients who do not require hospital-level care) are in these beds because of the lack of availability of long-term care. Due to the significant difference in the cost of hospital care (approximately $846 per day) versus long-term care ($126 per day), the CMA estimates that the shortages in the long-term care sector represent an increased cost of $2.3 billion.
Despite the recognized need for infrastructure investment in the continuing care sector, to date, this sector has been excluded from the Building Canada Plan. The CMA recommends that the federal government amend the criteria of the Building Canada Plan to include capital investment in continuing care infrastructure, including retrofit and renovation. Based on previous estimates, the CMA recommends that $540 million be allocated for 2016-17 (Table 3).
Table 3: Estimated cost to address forecasted shortage in long-term care beds, 2016-20 ($ million)15
Forecasted shortage in long-term care beds
Estimated cost to address shortage
Federal share to address shortage in long-term care beds (based on 1/3 contribution)
Theme 3: Jobs
As previously mentioned, Canada's aging population will produce significant changes in the labour force. There will be fewer Canadian workers, each with a greater likelihood of having caregiving responsibilities for family and friends.
According to the report of the federal Employer Panel for Caregivers, Canadian employers "were surprised and concerned that it already affects 35% of the Canadian workforce."16 This report highlights key findings of the 2012 General Social Survey: 1.6 million caregivers took leave from work; nearly 600,000 reduced their work hours; 160,000 turned down paid employment; and, 390,000 quit their jobs to provide care. It is estimated that informal caregiving represents $1.3 billion in lost workforce productivity. These costs will only increase as Canada's demographic shift progresses.
In parallel to the increasing informal caregiving demands on Canadian workers, Canada's aging population will also increase the demand for personal care workers and geriatric competencies across all health and social care professions.17
Theme 4: Taxation
The above section focused on the economic costs of caregiving on the workforce. The focus of this section will be on the economic value caregivers provide while they take on an increased economic burden.
Statistics Canada's latest research indicates that 8.1 million Canadians are informal caregivers, 39% of whom primarily care for a parent.18 The Conference Board of Canada reports that in 2007 informal caregivers contributed over 1.5 billion hours of home care - more than 10 times the number of paid hours in the same year.19 The economic contribution of informal caregivers was estimated to be about $25 billion in 2009.20 This same study estimated that informal caregivers incurred over $80 million in out-of-pocket expenses related to caregiving in 2009.
Despite their tremendous value and important role, only a small fraction of caregivers caring for a parent received any form of government support.21 Only 5% of caregivers providing care to parents reported receiving financial assistance while 28% reported needing more assistance than they received.22
As a first step to providing increased support for Canada's family caregivers, the CMA recommends that the federal government amend the Caregiver and Family Caregiver Tax Credits to make them refundable. This would provide an increased amount of financial support for family caregivers. It is estimated that this measure will cost $90.8 million in 2016-17.23
The CMA recognizes that in the face of ongoing economic uncertainty the federal government may face pressures to avoid new spending initiatives. The CMA strongly encourages the federal government to adopt the four recommendations outlined in this submission rather than further delay making a meaningful contribution to meeting the future care needs of Canada's aging population. The CMA would welcome the opportunity to provide further information and its rationale for each recommendation.
1 Statistics Canada. Generations in Canada. Cat. No. 98-311-X2011003. Ottawa: Statistics Canada; 2012. Available: www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2011/as-sa/98-311-x/98-311-x2011003_2-eng.pdf
2 Statistics Canada. Canada year book 2012, seniors. Available: www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/11-402-x/2012000/chap/seniors-aines/seniors-aines-eng.htm
3 Finance Canada. Economic and fiscal implications of Canada's aging population. Ottawa: Finance Canada; 2012. Available: www.fin.gc.ca/pub/eficap-rebvpc/eficap-rebvpc-eng.pdf
4 Canadian Institute for Health Information. National health expenditure trends, 1975 to 2014. Ottawa: The Institute; 2014. Available: www.cihi.ca/web/resource/en/nhex_2014_report_en.pdf
5 Calculation by the Canadian Medical Association, based on Statistics Canada's M1 population projection and the Canadian Institute for Health Information age-sex profile of provincial-territorial health spending.
6 Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer. Fiscal sustainability report 2015. Ottawa: The Office; 2015. Available: www.pbo-dpb.gc.ca/files/files/FSR_2015_EN.pdf
7 Conference Board of Canada. Research commissioned for the CMA, July 2015.
8 Morgan SG, Martin D, Gagnon MA, Mintzes B, Daw JR, Lexchin J. Pharmacare 2020: The future of drug coverage in Canada. Vancouver: Pharmaceutical Policy Research Collaboration, University of British Columbia; 2015. Available: http://pharmacare2020.ca/assets/pdf/The_Future_of_Drug_Coverage_in_Canada.pdf
9 Angus Reid Institute. Prescription drug access and affordability an issue for nearly a quarter of Canadian households. Available: http://angusreid.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/2015.07.09-Pharma.pdf
10 Statistics Canada. Survey of household spending. Ottawa: Statistics Canada; 2013.
11 Canadian Institute for Health Information. How Canada compares: results From The Commonwealth Fund 2014 International Health Policy Survey of Older Adults. Available: www.cihi.ca/en/health-system-performance/performance-reporting/international/commonwealth-survey-2014
12 British Columbia Pharmacy Association. Clinical service proposal: medication adherence services. Vancouver: The Association; 2013. Available: www.bcpharmacy.ca/uploads/Medication_Adherence.pdf
13 Supra at note 7.
14 Conference Board of Canada. Research commissioned for the CMA, January 2013.
16 Government of Canada. Report from the Employer Panel for Caregivers: when work and caregiving collide, how employers can support their employees who are caregivers. Available: www.esdc.gc.ca/eng/seniors/reports/cec.shtml
17 Stall S, Cummings G, Sullivan T. Caring for Canada's seniors will take our entire health care workforce. Available: http://healthydebate.ca/2013/09/topic/community-long-term-care/non-md-geriatrics
18 Statistics Canada. Family caregivers: What are the consequences? Available: www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/75-006-x/2013001/article/11858-eng.htm
19 Conference Board of Canada. Home and community care in Canada: an economic footprint. Ottawa: The Board; 2012. Available: http://www.conferenceboard.ca/cashc/research/2012/homecommunitycare.aspx
20 Hollander MJ, Liu G, Chappeel NL. Who cares and how much? The imputed economic contribution to the Canadian health care system of middle aged and older unpaid caregivers providing care to the elderly. Healthc Q. 2009;12(2):42-59.
21 Supra at note 16.
23 Supra at note 7.
Primary care is the backbone of our health care system in Canada and a national priority for this government.
The echoing words of the Speech from the Throne certify that the Government will strengthen health care and “Work with provinces, territories, health professionals and experts in industry and academia to make sure that all Canadians can access a primary care family doctor.” The Health Minister’s mandate letter further confirms that the Government will work “with the support of the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Seniors, to strengthen Medicare and renew our health agreements with the provinces and territories” to “ensure that every Canadian has access to a family doctor or primary health care team”.
We recognize that strengthening primary care through a team-based, inter-professional approach is integral to improving the health of all people living in Canada. This belief is consistent across our alliance of four major groups: the Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Nurses Association, the Canadian Association of Social Workers and the College of Family Physicians of Canada. There is nothing more suiting or fortunate than for a team-based approach to be wholeheartedly supported by an even larger team of teams.
We commend the Government’s commitment
to increasing Canadians’ access to primary care.
We have a model to make it happen.
The Primary Health Care Transition Fund 2, a one-time fund over four years, would provide the necessary funding to help establish models of primary care based on the Patient’s Medical Home, a team-based approach that connects the various care delivery points in the community for each patient. This model is rooted in the networking of family physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses, social workers and other health professionals as a team. This is the only way to provide comprehensive primary care to patients. It will enable a more exhaustive approach to patient care, ultimately leading to increased prevention and better health outcomes for Canadians. Consider it the main artery
in meeting the needs of patients and communities.
A commitment to the Primary Health Care Transition Fund 2 gives substance to the promise of building a network of care that addresses immediate health needs while connecting to ongoing social and community health services. This Fund model bolsters Canadians. It is backed by doctors, nurses, and social workers. A phalanx of Canadian care providers stand behind it. An entire country will benefit from it.
In support of the federal government’s commitment to improve Canadians’ access to primary care,
we recommend a one-time fund in the amount of $1.2 billion over four years to expand the establishment of primary care teams in each province and territory.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to provide the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance this pre-budget submission. It provides recommendations to address major pan-Canadian challenges to the health of Canadians: improve how we provide care to our growing elderly population; improve access to primary care across the country; increase digital health literacy to take advantage of the benefits of new health information technologies; and better prepare for and mitigate the health impacts of a changing climate on Canadians.
Health systems across the country are currently struggling to meet the needs of our aging population. People aged 85 years and over—many of whom are frail—make up the fastest growing age group in Canadai.
Provincial and territorial health care systems (as well as care systems for populations falling under federal jurisdiction) are facing many challenges to meet the needs of an aging population. Canadians support a strong role for the federal government in leading a national seniors strategy and working with the provinces to ensure that all Canadians have the same level of access and quality of services, no matter where they live.
The 2017 federal/provincial/territorial funding agreement involving $6 billion over 10 years to improve access to home care services is a welcomed building block. But without greater investment in seniors care, health systems will not keep up. To be truly relevant and effectively respond to Canadians’ present and future needs, our health care system must provide integrated, continuing care able to meet the chronic and complex care needs of our growing and aging population. This includes recognizing the increased role for patients and their caregivers in the care process.
The federal government must ensure transfers are able to keep up with the real cost of health care. Current funding levels clearly fail to do so. Health transfers are estimated to rise by 3.6% while health care costs are expected to rise by 5.1% annually over the next decade.ii
The federal government ensure provincial and territorial health care systems meet the care needs of their aging populations by means of a demographic top-up to the Canada Health Transfer.iii
Providing care often comes with a financial cost such as lost income due to the caregiver’s withdrawal from the workforce to provide care. There are also increasing out-of-pocket costs for both caregivers and care receivers for health care-related expenses—privately covered expenditures on home and long-term care for seniors are projected to grow by an average of 5.8 per cent annually—nearly 1.5 times the pace of household disposable income growth. While the federal government offers tax credits that can be claimed by care receivers/caregivers, they are significantly under-utilized. While representing a significant proportion of caregivers, those with low or no income receive little to no federal government support through these programs. Middle-income earners also receive less than those earning high incomes.
The federal government create a Seniors Care Benefit that would be an easier, fairer and more effective way to support caregivers and care receivers alike.iv
Access to Care
Since the mid-1990s, the federal and provincial/territorial governments (FPT) have provided sustained leadership in promoting and supporting the transformation of primary care in Canada. In 2000, the First Ministers concluded the first of three Health Accords in which they agreed to promote the establishment of primary health care teamsv supported by a $800 million Primary Health Care Transition Fund (PHCTF) funded by the federal government, but jointly governed. The PHCTF resulted in large-scale sustained change in primary care delivery models in Ontario, Quebec and Alberta with interest in other jurisdictions as well.
However, the job is far from finished. Across Canada, access to primary care is challenging for many Canadians with a persistent shortage of family physicians. In 2017, 4.7 million Canadians aged 12+ reported they did not have a regular health care provider.vi Even those who have a regular provider experience wait time issues.
There has been widespread interest in primary care models since the development of the College of Family Physicians of Canada’s (CFPC) vision document Family Practice: The Patient’s Medical Home (PMH), initially launched in 2011vii and recently re-launched.viii The model is founded on 10 pillars depicted in Figure 1.
Figure 1. The Patient’s Medical Home, 2019
The updated model places increased emphasis on team-based care and introduces the concept of the patient’s medical neighborhood that sets out connections between the primacy care practice and all delivery points in the surrounding community. While comprehensive baseline data are lacking, it seems
safe to conjecture that most Canadians are not enrolled in a primary care model that would measure up to the model’s 10 pillars.
The federal government, in concert with provinces and territories, establish a targeted fund in the amount of $1.2 billion to support a new time-limited Primary Health Care Transition Fund that would build on the success of the fund launched in 2000 with the goal of widely introducing a sustainable medical home model across jurisdictions. This would include the following key elements:
Age-sex-weighted per capita allocation across the provinces and territories;
Joint governance of the FPT governments with meaningful stakeholder engagement;
Respect for the Canada Health Act principles;
Common objectives (e.g., modeled on the CFPC Patient’s Medical Home framework);
Canada and most industrialized countries will experience a digital health revolution over the next decade with great potential to improve patient and population health. Digital health can be described as the integration of the electronic collection and compilation of health data, decision support tools and analytics with the use of audio, video and other technologies to deliver preventive, diagnostic and treatment services that promote patient and population health.
While most Canadian physicians’ offices and health care facilities are now using some form of electronic record keeping and most households have internet access, there remains a large deficit in using virtual care, both within jurisdictions and across provincial/territorial boundaries. Recently the CMA, the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada and the College of Family Physicians of Canada established a Virtual Care Task Force to identify opportunities for digital health to improve health care delivery, including what regulatory changes are required for physicians to deliver care to patients within and across provincial/territorial boundaries.
To take full advantage of digital health capabilities it will be essential for the population to have a functional level of digital health literacy: the ability to seek, find, understand and appraise health information from electronic sources and apply the knowledge gained to addressing or solving a health problem.ix This also includes the capability of communicating about one’s health to health care professionals (e.g., e-consults), self-monitoring health (e.g., patient portals) and receiving treatment online (e.g., Web-based cognitive behavioral therapy).x
There are no current data available on health literacy in Canada, let alone digital health literacy. One basic barrier to achieving digital health literacy is access to, and usage of the Internet, which has been termed the “digital divide” (e.g., older Canadians and low income households are less likely to have Internet access).Error! Bookmark not defined.
In 2001 the federal government established the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC). Its mandate includes informing consumers about their rights and responsibilities in dealing with financial institutions and providing information and tools to help consumers understand and shop for financial products and services.xi In 2014 the FCAC appointed a Financial Literacy Leader who has focused on financial literacy, including activities such as conducting financial capability surveys and the development of a National Strategy for Financial Literacy.xii
Considering the anticipated growth of digital/virtual care it would be desirable to understand and promote digital health literacy across Canada. What the federal government has done for financial literacy could serve as a template for digital health literacy.
The federal government establish a Digital Health Literacy Secretariat to:
Develop indicators and conducting surveys to measure and track the digital health literacy of Canadians;
Develop tools that can be used both by Canadians and their health care providers to enhance their digital health literacy; and
Assess and make recommendations on the “digital divide” that may exist among some population sub-groups due to a lack of access to information technology and lower digital health literacy.
Climate Change and Health
Climate change is the public health imperative of our time. There is a high level of concern among Canadians about their changing climate. A 2017 poll commissioned by Health Canada demonstrates a high level of concern among Canadians about their changing climate: 79% were convinced that climate change is happening, and of these, 53% accepted that it is a current health risk, with 40% believing it will be a health risk in the future.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified air pollution and climate change as one of the biggest threats to global health. Health care professionals see first-hand the devastating health impacts of our changing climate including increased deaths from fine particulate matter air pollution and increased heat-related conditions. Impacts are most common in vulnerable populations such as adults over 65 years, the homeless, urban dwellers and people with a pre-existing disease.
Canada’s health care system is already treating the health effects of climate change. A lack of progress in reducing emissions and building adaptive capacity threatens both human lives and the viability of Canada’s health system, with the potential to disrupt core public health infrastructure and overwhelm health services, not to mention the economic and social costs. The federal government must provide leadership to deal with the impact already being felt in Canada and around the world.
The federal government make strong commitments to minimize the impact of climate change on the health of Canadians by:
Ensuring pan-Canadian and inter-jurisdictional coordination to standardize surveillance and reporting of climate-related health impacts such as heat-related deaths, develop knowledge translation strategies to inform the public, and generate clinical and public health response plans that minimize the health impacts;
Increasing funding for research on the mental health impacts of climate change and psychosocial adaptation opportunities; and
Ensuring funding is provided to the health sector to prepare for climate change impacts through efforts to increase resiliency (i.e., risk assessments, readiness to manage disease outbreaks, sustainable practice).
i Statistics Canada. The Chief Public Health Officer's Report on the State of Public Health in Canada, 2014: Public Health in the Future. Ottawa: Statistics Canada; 2015. Available: http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/cphorsphc-respcacsp/2014/chang-eng.php; (accessed 2016 Sep 19).
ii The Conference Board of Canada. Meeting the care needs of Canada’s aging population. Ottawa: The Conference Board; 2018.
iii Canadian Medical Association. Meeting the demographic challenge: Investments in seniors care. Pre-budget submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance. August 3, 2018. https://policybase.cma.ca/documents/Briefpdf/BR2018-16.pdf
iv The Conference Board of Canada. Measures to Better Support Seniors and Their Caregivers. March 2019. https://www.cma.ca/sites/default/files/pdf/health-advocacy/Measures-to-better-support-seniors-and-their-caregivers-e.pdf
v Canadian Intergovernmental Conference Secretariat. News release – First Ministers’ meeting communiqué on health. September 11, 2000. http://www.scics.ca/en/product-produit/news-release-first-ministers-meeting-communique-on-health/. Accessed 04/22/19.
vi Statistics Canada. Primary health care providers, 2017. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/en/pub/82-625-x/2019001/article/00001-eng.pdf?st=NGPiUkM5. Accessed 04/21/19.
vii College of Family Physicians of Canada. A vision for Canada. Family Practice: the patient’s medical home. http://www.cfpc.ca/uploadedFiles/Resources/Resource_Items/PMH_A_Vision_for_Canada.pdf. Accessed 04/22/19.
viii College of Family Physicians of Canada. The patient’s medical home 2019. https://patientsmedicalhome.ca/files/uploads/PMH_VISION2019_ENG_WEB_2.pdf. Accessed 04/21/19.
ix Norman C, Skinner H. eHealth literacy: essential skills for consumer health in a networked world. J Med Internet Res 2006;8(2):e9. Doi:10.2196/jmir.8.2.e9.
x Van der Vaart R, Drossaert C. Development of the digital health literacy instrument: measuring a broad spectrum of health 1.0 and health 2.0 skills. J Med Internet Res. 2017;19(1):e27. Doi:10.2196/jmir.6709.
xi Financial Consumer Agency of Canada. About FCAC.
xii Financial Consumer Agency of Canada. National Strategy for Financial Literacy. Phase 1: strengthening seniors’ financial literacy. https://www.canada.ca/content/dam/canada/financial-consumer-agency/migration/eng/financialliteracy/financialliteracycanada/documents/seniorsstrategyen.pdf. Accessed 06/24/19. https://www.canada.ca/en/financial-consumer-agency/corporate/about.html. Accessed 07/01/19.
Canadians are living longer, healthier lives than ever before. The number of seniors expected to need help or care in the next 30 years will double, placing an unprecedented challenge on Canada’s health care system. That we face this challenge speaks to the immense success story that is modern medicine, but it doesn’t in any way minimize the task ahead.
Publicly funded health care was created about 50 years ago when Canada’s population was just over 20 million and the average life expectancy was 71. Today, our population is over 36 million and the average life expectancy is 10 years longer. People 85 and older make up the fastest growing age group in our country, and the growth in the number of centenarians is also expected to continue.
The Canadian Medical Association is pleased that the House of Commons Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities is studying ways Canada can respond to these challenges. Here, for your consideration, we present 15 comprehensive recommendations that would help our seniors remain active, contributing citizens of their communities while improving the quality of their lives. These range from increasing capital investment in residential care infrastructure, to enhancing assistance for caregivers, to improving the senior-friendliness of our neighbourhoods.
The task faced by this committee, indeed the task faced by all of Canada, is daunting. That said, it is manageable and great advances can be made on behalf of seniors. By doing so, we will ultimately deliver both health and financial benefits to all Canadians.
Dr. Laurent Marcoux, CMA President
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to submit this brief to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities as part of its study regarding how the Government can support vulnerable seniors today while preparing for the diverse and growing seniors population of tomorrow. This brief directly addresses the three themes considered by this Committee:
How the Government can improve access to housing for seniors including aging in place and affordable and accessible housing;
How the Government can improve income security for vulnerable seniors; and
How the Government can improve the overall quality of life and well-being for seniors including community programming, social inclusivity, and social determinants of health.
Improving access to housing for seniors
As part of a new National Housing Strategy, the federal government announced in the 2017 Budget that it will invest more than $11.2 billion in a range of initiatives designed to build, renew, and repair Canada’s stock of affordable housing and help to ensure that Canadians have adequate and affordable housing that meets their needs. While a welcome step, physicians continue to see the problems facing seniors in relation to a lack of housing options and supports — problems that cascade across the entire health care system.
A major hindrance to social equity in health care delivery and a serious cause of wait times is the inappropriate placement of patients, particularly seniors, in hospitals. Alternate level of care (ALC) beds are often used in acute care hospitals to accommodate patients — most of whom are medically stable seniors — waiting for appropriate levels of home care or access to a residential care home/facility. High rates of ALC patients in hospitals affect all patients by contributing to hospital overcrowding, lengthy waits in emergency departments, delayed hospital admissions, cancelled elective surgeries, and sidelined ambulance services waiting to offload new arrivals (often referred to as code gridlock).1 Moreover, unnecessarily long hospital stays can leave patients vulnerable to hospital-acquired illnesses and disabilities such as delirium, deconditioning, and falls.
Daily costs - Ontario
$842: acute care hospital, per patient
$126: long-term care residence, per patient
$42: home care, per patient
# of acute care hospital beds = 18,571 14% waiting for placement = 2,600 beds
Providing more cost-effective and appropriate solutions will optimize the use of health care resources. It has been estimated that it costs $842 per day for a hospital bed versus $126 per day for a long-term care bed and $42 per day for care at home.2 An investment in appropriate home or residential care, which can take many forms, will alleviate inappropriate hospital admissions and facilitate timely discharges.
The residential care sector is facing significant challenges because of the rising numbers of older seniors with increasingly complex care needs. The demand for residential care will increase significantly over the next several years because of the growing number of frail elderly seniors requiring this service. New facilities will need to be constructed and existing facilities will need to be upgraded to comply with enhanced regulatory requirements and respond to residents’ higher care needs.
The Conference Board of Canada has produced a residential care bed forecast tied to population growth of age cohorts. It is estimated that Canada will require an average of 10,500 new beds per year over the next 19 years, for a total of 199,000 new beds by 2035. This forecast does not include the investments needed to renovate and retrofit existing long-term care homes.3 A recent report by the Canadian Institute for Health Information indicated that residential care capacity must double over the next 20 years (assuming no change in how care is currently provided), necessitating a transformation in how seniors care is provided across the continuum of care.4 These findings provide a sense of the immense challenges Canada faces in addressing the residential care needs of older seniors.
Investments in residential care infrastructure and continuing care will improve care for seniors while significantly reducing wait times in hospitals and across the system, benefiting all patients. Efforts to de-hospitalize the system and address the housing and residential care options for Canada’s aging population are key. The federal government can provide significant pan-Canadian assistance by investing in residential care infrastructure.
The CMA recommends that the federal government include capital investment in residential care infrastructure, including retrofit and renovation, as part of its commitment to invest in social infrastructure.
Improving income security for vulnerable seniors
Income is a key factor impacting the health of individuals and communities. Higher income and social status are linked to better health.5
Adequate Income: Poverty among seniors in Canada dropped sharply in the 1970s and 1980s but it has been rising in recent years. In 2012, the incidence of low income among people aged 65 years and over was 12.1%. This rate was considerably higher for single seniors at 28.5%.6
Incidence of low income (2012)
Seniors overall: 12.1%
Single seniors: 28.5%
Most older Canadians rely on Old Age Security (OAS), the Canada Pension Plan (CPP), and their personal pensions or investments to maintain their basic standard of living in retirement. Some seniors are also eligible for a Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) to improve their financial security. The CMA recognizes the federal government’s actions to strengthen these programs and initiatives to ensure their viability and to provide sustainable tax relief. These measures must continue and evolve to support aging Canadians so they can afford to live at home or in age-friendly communities as they get older. The government’s actions to ensure adequate income support will also assist aging Canadians to take care of their health, maintain independence, and continue living safely without the need for institutional care.
On the topic of seniors’ income security, the financial abuse of seniors cannot be overlooked. Elder abuse can take many forms: financial, physical, psychological, sexual, and neglect. Often the abuser is a family member, friend, or other person in a position of trust. Researchers estimate that 4 to 10% of Canadian seniors experience abuse or neglect, but that only a small portion of this is reported. The CMA supports public awareness initiatives that bring attention to elder abuse, as well as programs to intervene with seniors who are abused and with their abusers.
The CMA recommends that the federal government take steps to provide adequate income support for older Canadians, as well as education and protection from financial abuse.
Improving the overall quality of life and well-being for seniors
Improving how we support and care for Canada’s growing seniors population has been a priority for CMA over the past several years. For the first time in Canada’s history, persons aged 65 years and older outnumber those under the age of 15 years.7 Seniors are projected to represent over 20% of the population by 2024 and up to 25% of the population by 2036.8 People aged 85 years and over make up the fastest growing age group in Canada — this portion of the population grew by 127% between 1993 and 2013.9 Statistics Canada projects, on the basis of a medium-growth scenario, that there will be over 11,100 Canadians aged 100 years and older by 2021, 14,800 by 2026 and 20,300 by 2036.7
Though age does not automatically mean ill health or disability, the risk of both increases with age. Approximately 75 to 80% of Canadian seniors report having one or more chronic conditions.10 Because of increasing rates of disability and chronic disease, the demand for health services is expected to increase as Canada’s population ages. The Conference Board of Canada has estimated 2.4 million Canadians 65 years and older will need continuing care, both paid and unpaid, by 2026 — a 71% increase since 2011.11
When publicly funded health care was created about 50 years ago, Canada’s population was just over 20 million and the average life expectancy was 71. Today, our population is over 36 million and the average life expectancy is 10 years longer. The aging of our population is both a success story and a pressing health policy issue.
National seniors strategy
Canada needs a new approach to ensure that both our aging population and the rest of Canadians can get the care they need, when and where they need it. The CMA believes that the federal government should invest in seniors care now, guided by a pan-Canadian seniors strategy. In doing so, it can help aging Canadians be as productive as possible — at work, in their communities, and in their homes.
The CMA is pleased with the June 2017 Report of the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance that called for the federal government to develop, in collaboration with the provinces and territories and Indigenous partners, a national seniors strategy in order to control spending growth while ensuring appropriate and accessible care.12 The CMA is also pleased that MP Marc Serré (Nickel Belt) secured support for his private members’ motion calling for the development of a national seniors strategy. Over 50,000 Canadians have already lent their support to this cause (see www.DemandaPlan.ca).
The CMA recommends that the federal government provide targeted funding to support the development of a pan-Canadian seniors strategy to address the needs of the aging population.
Improving assistance for home care and Canada’s caregivers
Many of the services required by seniors, in particular home care and long-term care, are not covered by the Canada Health Act. Funding for these services varies widely from province to province. The disparity among the provinces in terms of their fiscal capacity in the current economic climate will mean improvements in seniors care will advance at an uneven pace. The funding and delivery of accessible home care services will help more aging Canadians to recover from illness, live at home longer, and contribute to their families and communities. Multi-year funding arrangements to reinforce commitment to and financial investment in home care should be carefully considered.13 The development of innovative partnerships and models to help ensure services and resources for seniors’ seamless transition across the continuum of care are also important.
The CMA recommends governments work with the health and social services sectors, and with private insurers, to develop a framework for the funding and delivery of accessible and sustainable home care and long-term care services.
Family and friend caregivers are an extremely important part of the health care system. A 2012 Statistics Canada study found that 5.4 million Canadians provided care to a senior family member or friend, and 62% of caregivers helping seniors said that the care receiver lived in a private residence separate from their own.14 According to a report by Carers Canada, the Canadian Home Care Association, and the Canadian Cancer Action Network, caregivers provide an array of services including personal and medical care, housekeeping, advocacy, financial management, and social/emotional support. The report also indicated that caregivers contribute $25 billion in unpaid labour to our health system.15 Given their enormous contributions, Canada’s caregivers need support in the form of financial assistance, education, peer support, and respite care. A pan-Canadian caregiver strategy is needed to ensure caregivers are provided with the support they require.15
Personal and Medical Care
worth $25 billion in
Social-emo ional Suppor
The CMA recommends that the federal government and other stakeholders work together to develop and implement a pan-Canadian caregiver strategy, and expand the support programs currently offered to informal caregivers.
Canadians want governments to do more to help seniors and their family caregivers.16 The federal government’s new combined Canada Caregiver Credit
(CCC) is a non-refundable credit to individuals caring for dependent relatives with infirmities (including persons with disabilities). The CCC will be more accessible and will extend tax relief to more caregivers by including dependent relatives who do not live with their caregivers and by increasing the income threshold. Making the new CCC a refundable tax credit for caregivers whose tax owing is less than the total credit would result in a refund payment to provide further financial support for low-income families.
The CMA recommends that the federal government improve awareness of the new Canada Caregiver Credit and amend it to make it a refundable tax credit for caregivers.
The federal government’s recent commitment to provide $6 billion over 10 years to the provinces and territories for home care, including support for caregivers, is a welcome step toward improving opportunities for seniors to remain in their homes. As with previous bilateral funding agreements, it is important to establish clear operating principles between the parties to oversee the funding implementation and for the development of clear metrics to measure performance.
The CMA recommends that the federal government develop explicit operating principles for the home care funding that has been negotiated with the provinces and territories to recognize funding for caregivers and respite care as eligible areas of investment.
The federal government’s recent funding investments in home care and mental health recognize the importance of these aspects of the health care system. They also signal that Canada has under-invested in home and community-based care to date. Other countries have more supportive systems and programs in place — systems and programs that Canada should consider.
The CMA recommends the federal government convene an all-party parliamentary international study that includes stakeholders to examine the approaches taken to mitigate the inappropriate use of acute care for elderly persons and provide support for caregivers.
Programs and supports to promote healthy aging
The CMA believes that governments at all levels should invest in programs and supports to promote healthy aging, a comprehensive continuum of health services to provide optimal care and support to older Canadians, and an environment and society that is “age friendly”.17
The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) defines healthy aging as “the process of optimizing opportunities for physical, social and mental health to enable seniors to take an active part in society without discrimination and to enjoy independence and quality of life.”18 It is believed that initiatives to promote healthy aging and enable older Canadians to maintain their health will help lower health care costs by reducing the overall burden of disability and chronic disease. Such initiatives should focus on physical activity, good nutrition, injury (e.g. falls) prevention, and seniors’ mental health (including depression).
The CMA recommends that governments at all levels support programs to promote physical activity, nutrition, injury prevention, and mental health among older Canadians.
For seniors who have multiple chronic diseases or disabilities, care needs can be complex, and they may vary greatly from one person to another and involve many health care providers. Complex care needs demand a flexible and responsive health system. The CMA believes that quality health care for older Canadians should be delivered on a continuum from community-based health care (e.g. primary health care, chronic disease management programs), to home care
(e.g. visiting health care workers to give baths and foot care), to long-term care and palliative care. Ideally, this continuum should be managed so that the senior can remain at home and out of emergency departments, hospitals, and long-term care unless appropriate; easily access necessary care; and make a smooth transition from one level of care to another when necessary.
The CMA recommends governments and other stakeholders work together to develop and implement models of integrated, interdisciplinary health service delivery for older Canadians.
Every senior should have the opportunity to have a family physician or to be part of a family practice that serves as a medical home. This provides a central hub for the timely provision and coordination of the comprehensive menu of health and medical services. A medical home should provide patients with access to medical advice and the provision of, or direction to, needed care 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Research in 2014 by the Commonwealth Fund found that the percentage of Canadian seniors who have a regular family physician or place of care is very high (98%); however, their ability to get timely access based on same-day or next-day appointments was among the lowest of 11 nations.19 Compared to seniors in most other countries surveyed, Canadian seniors were also more likely to use the emergency department and experience problems with care coordination.
The CMA recommends governments continue efforts to ensure that older Canadians have access to a family physician, supported by specialized geriatric services as appropriate.
Prescription drugs represent the fastest-growing item in the health budget and the second-largest category of health expenditure. As the population of seniors grows, there will be an ongoing need for detailed information regarding seniors’ drug use and expenditure to support the overall management of public drug programs.20 Despite some level of drug coverage for seniors in all provinces and territories, some seniors still skip doses or avoid filling prescriptions due to cost, and more research into the extent of this problem is required.21 The CMA supports the development of an equitable and comprehensive pan-Canadian pharmacare program. As a step toward comprehensive, universal coverage, the CMA has repeatedly called on the federal government to implement a system of catastrophic coverage for prescription medication to reduce cost barriers of treatment and ensure Canadians do not experience undue financial hardship. Moreover, with more drugs available to treat a large number of complex and chronic health conditions, the CMA supports the development of a coordinated national approach to reduce polypharmacy among the elderly.
The CMA recommends governments and other stakeholders work together to develop and implement a pan-Canadian pharmaceutical strategy that addresses both comprehensive coverage of essential medicines for all Canadians, and programs to encourage optimal prescribing and drug therapy.
Optimal care and support for older Canadians also depends on identifying, adapting, and implementing best practices in the care of seniors. PHAC’s Best Practices Portal22 is one noteworthy initiative, and the system needs to spread and scale best practices by leveraging and enhancing pan-Canadian resources that build capacity and improve performance in home care and other sectors.13
The CMA recommends that governments and other stakeholders support ongoing research to identify best practices in the care of seniors, and monitor the impact of various interventions on health outcomes and costs.
An environment and society that is “age friendly”
One of the primary goals of seniors policy in Canada is to promote the independence of older Canadians, avoiding costly institutionalization for as long as feasible. To help older Canadians successfully maintain their independence, governments and society must keep the social determinants of health in mind when developing and implementing policy that affects seniors. It is also important to eliminate discrimination against seniors and promote positive messaging around aging. An age-friendly society respects the experience, knowledge, and capabilities of its older members and accords them the same worth and dignity as it does other citizens.
Employment is also important for seniors who need or desire it. Many seniors are choosing to remain active in the workplace for a variety of reasons, such as adding to their financial resources or staying connected to a social network.23 The CMA recognizes the federal government’s support for seniors who opt to continue working. And, while many employers encourage older workers and accommodate their needs, employment may be difficult to find in workplaces that are unwilling to hire older workers.
The CMA recommends that governments at all levels and other partners give older Canadians access to opportunities for meaningful employment if they desire.
The physical environment, including the built environment, can help to promote seniors’ independence and successful, healthy aging. The World Health Organization defines an “age-friendly environment” as one that fosters health and well-being and the participation of people as they age.24 Age-friendly environments are accessible, equitable, inclusive, safe and secure, and supportive. They promote health and prevent or delay the onset of disease and functional decline. They provide people-centered services and support to enable recovery or to compensate for the loss of function so that people can continue to do the things that are important to them.24 These factors should be taken into consideration by those who design and build communities. For example, buildings should be designed with entrance ramps and elevators; sidewalks could have sloping curbs for walkers and wheelchairs; and frequent, accessible public transportation should be provided in neighbourhoods with large concentrations of seniors.
The CMA recommends that governments and communities take the needs of older Canadians into account when designing buildings, walkways, transportation systems, and other aspects of the built environment.
The CMA recognizes the federal government’s commitment to support vulnerable seniors today while preparing for the diverse and growing seniors’ population of tomorrow. The CMA’s recommendations in this submission can assist the government as it seeks to improve access to housing for seniors, enhance income security for vulnerable seniors, and improve the overall quality of life for seniors in ways that will help to advance inclusion, well-being, and the health of Canada’s aging population.
To maximize the health and well-being of older Canadians, and ensure their active engagement and independence for as long as possible, the CMA believes that the health care system, governments, and society should work with older Canadians to promote healthy aging, provide quality patient-centred health care and support services, and build communities that value Canadians of all ages.
1 Simpson C. Code Gridlock: Why Canada needs a national seniors strategy. Address to the Canadian Club of Ottawa by Dr. Christopher Simpson, President, Canadian Medical Association; 2014 Nov. 18; Ottawa, Ontario. Available: https://www.cma.ca/En/Lists/Medias/Code_Gridlock_final. pdf#search=code%20gridlock (accessed 2016 Sep 22).
2 North East Local Health Integration Network. HOME First shifts care of seniors to HOME. LHINfo Minute, Northeastern Ontario Health Care Update. Sudbury: The Network; 2011. Cited by Home Care Ontario. Facts & figures - publicly funded home care. Hamilton: Home Care Ontario; 2017 Jun. Available: http://www.homecareontario.ca/home-care-services/facts-figures/publiclyfundedhomecare (accessed 2016 Sep 22).
3 Conference Board of Canada. A cost-benefit analysis of meeting the demand for long-term care beds. Ottawa: Conference Board of Canada; Manuscript submitted for publication.
4 Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI). Seniors in transition: exploring pathways across the care continuum. Ottawa: The Institute; 2017. Available: https://www.cihi.ca/sites/default/files/document/seniors-in-transition-report-2017-en.pdf (accessed 2017 Jun 30).
5 World Health Organization. Health Impact Assessment (HIA). The determinants of health. Available: http://www.who.int/hia/evidence/doh/en/ (accessed 2017 Oct 23).
6 Statistics Canada. Persons in low income (after-tax low income measure), 2012. The Daily. Ottawa: Statistics Canada; 2014 Dec 10. Available: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/daily-quotidien/141210/t141210a003-eng.htm (accessed 2017 Oct 17).
7 Statistics Canada. Population projections: Canada, the provinces and territories, 2013 to 2063. The Daily. Ottawa: Statistics Canada; 2014 Sep 17. Available: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/daily-quotidien/140917/dq140917a-eng.pdf (accessed 2016 Sep 19).
8 Statistics Canada. Canada Year Book 2012, seniors. Ottawa: Statistics Canada; 2012. Available: https://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/11
402-x/2012000/chap/seniors-aines/seniors-aines-eng.htm (accessed 2017 Oct 18).
9 Public Health Agency of Canada. The Chief Public Health Officer’s report on the state of public health in Canada, 2014: public health in the future. Ottawa: Public Health Agency of Canada; 2014. Available: https://www.canada.ca/content/dam/phac-aspc/migration/phac-aspc/ cphorsphc-respcacsp/2014/assets/pdf/2014-eng.pdf (accessed 2016 Sep 19).
10 Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI). Health Care in Canada, 2011: A Focus on Seniors and Aging. Ottawa: The Institute; 2014 Nov. Available: https://secure.cihi.ca/free_products/HCIC_2011_seniors_report_en.pdf (accessed 2016 Sept 19).
11 Stonebridge C, Hermus G, Edenhoffer K. Future care for Canadian seniors: a status quo forecast. Ottawa: Conference Board of Canada; 2015. Available: http://www.conferenceboard.ca/e-library/abstract.aspx?did=7374 (accessed 2016 Sep 20).
12 Report of the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance. Getting ready: For a new generation of active seniors. Ottawa: The Committee; 2017 Jun. Available: https://sencanada.ca/content/sen/committee/421/NFFN/Reports/NFFN_Final19th_Aging_e.pdf (accessed 2017 Oct 18).
13 Canadian Home Care Association, The College of Family Physicians of Canada, Canadian Nurses Association. Better Home Care in Canada: A National Action Plan. 2016. Ottawa: Canadian Home Care Association, The College of Family Physicians of Canada, Canadian Nurses Association; 2016. Available: http://www.thehomecareplan.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Better-Home-Care-Report-Oct-web.pdf (accessed 2017 Oct 23).
14 Turcotte M, Sawaya C. Senior care: differences by type of housing. Insights on Canadian society. Cat. No. 75-006-X. Ottawa: Statistics Canada; 2015 Feb 25. Available: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/75-006-x/2015001/article/14142-eng.pdf (accessed 2016 Sep 22).
15 Carers Canada, Canadian Home Care Association, Canadian Cancer Action Network. Advancing Collective Priorities: A Canadian Carer Strategy. 2017. Mississauga: Canadian Home Care Association, Canadian Cancer Action Network; 2017. Available: http://www.cdnhomecare.ca/media. php?mid=4918 (accessed 2017 Oct 23).
16 Ipsos Public Affairs, HealthCareCAN, Canadian College of Health Leaders. National Health Leadership Conference report. Toronto: Ipsos Public Affairs; 2016 Jun 6. Available: http://www.nhlc-cnls.ca/assets/2016%20Ottawa/NHLCIpsosReportJune1.pdf (accessed 2016 Jun 06).
17 Canadian Medical Association. Health and Health Care for an Aging Population. Ottawa: The Association; December 2013. Available: https:// www.cma.ca/Assets/assets-library/document/en/advocacy/policy-research/CMA_Policy_Health_and_Health_Care_for_an_Aging-Population_ PD14-03-e.pdf (accessed 2017 Oct 20).
18 Government of Canada. The Chief Public Health Officer’s Report on the State of Public Health in Canada 2010 – Canada’s experience in setting the stage for healthy aging. Ottawa: Government of Canada; 2014. Available: https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/corporate/publications/ chief-public-health-officer-reports-state-public-health-canada/annual-report-on-state-public-health-canada-2010/chapter-2.html (accessed 2017 Oct 23).
19 Commonwealth Fund. 2014 International Health Policy Survey of Older Adults in Eleven Countries. 2014. New York: Commonweath Fund; 2014. Available: http://www.commonwealthfund.org/~/media/files/publications/in-the-literature/2014/nov/pdf_1787_commonwealth_fund_2014_intl_ survey_chartpack.pdf (accessed 2017 Oct 23).
20 Canadian Institute for Health Information. Drug Use among Seniors on Public Drug Programs in Canada, 2002 to 2008. (2010). Ottawa: The Institute; 2010. Available: https://secure.cihi.ca/free_products/drug_use_in_seniors_2002-2008_e.pdf (accessed 2017 Oct 23).
21 Law MR, Cheng L, Dhalla IA, Heard D, Morgan SG. The effect of cost on adherence to prescription medications in Canada. CMAJ. 2012 Feb21;184(3):297-302. Available: http://www.cmaj.ca/content/184/3/297.short. (accessed 2017 Oct 23).
22 Public Health Agency of Canada. Canadian Best Practices Portal. Ottawa: Public Health Agency of Canada; 2016. Available: http://cbpp-pcpe. phac-aspc.gc.ca/public-health-topics/seniors/ (accessed 2017 Oct 23).
23 Government of Canada. Action for Seniors report. 2014. Ottawa: Government of Canada; 2014. Available: https://www.canada.ca/en/ employment-social-development/programs/seniors-action-report.html (accessed 2017 Oct 23).
24 World Health Organization (WHO). Age-friendly environments. Geneva: WHO; 2017. Available: http://www.who.int/ageing/projects/age
friendly-environments/en/ (accessed 2017 Oct 23).
The public health system in Canada lies at the heart of our community values. It is the quintessential “public good” and is central to the continued good health of our population. When the public health system is working well, few are even aware that it is at work! Only when something goes terribly wrong — like the Walkerton tragedy or when we are faced with a new threat like SARS — is the integral, ongoing role of public health really recognized.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) has been warning that our public health system is stretched to capacity in dealing with everyday demands, let alone responding to the latest crises. Canada’s physicians have repeatedly called for governments to enhance public health capacity and strengthen the public health infrastructure throughout Canada.
Our public health system is the first — and often the only — line of defence against emerging and ongoing infectious and noninfectious threats to the health of Canadians. But we are only as strong as the weakest link in the emergency response chain of survival. As most health threats know no boundaries, our public health armaments must be in a constant state of “battle readiness.” In today’s climate of SARS, West Nile Virus, mad cow disease and monkey pox, even the thought that the public health system may be stretched beyond capacity strikes fear into the hearts of Canadians.
Physicians have always been an integral part of the public health system serving as medical officers of health, community health specialists and other related roles. Indeed public health cannot successfully fulfill its mandate without the cooperation and commitment of front-line clinicians.
In this submission, we reflect on the lessons to be learned from our recent experience with SARS and reflect on the longer-term needs of the public health system as a whole. The objectives of the pan-Canadian Public Health Action Plan proposed by the CMA are, first to realize a clearer alignment of authority and accountability in times of extraordinary health emergencies; and, second, to enhance the system’s capacity to respond to public health threats across the country (see recommendations, below, and Appendix 1).
To achieve these twin objectives, three broad strategies are presented for immediate attention. They are legislative reform; capacity enhancement; and research, surveillance and communications.
Legislative reform (see recommendations 1–3)
The country’s response to SARS has brought into stark relief the urgent need for national leadership and coordination of public health activity across the country, especially during a health crisis. The apparent reluctance to act quickly to institute screening at airports, the delay in unifying the practice community for a concerted response and the appalling communications confusion worked against optimum handling of the outbreak — despite the best efforts of health care professionals.
This is a wake-up call that highlights the need for comprehensive legislative reform to clarify the roles of governments with respect to the management of public health threats. A renewed and enhanced national commitment to public health should be anchored in new federal legislation to be negotiated with the provinces and territories.
Specifically, the CMA recommends an Emergency Health Measures Act, to deal with emergent situations in tandem with the creation of a Canadian public health agency headed by a Chief Public Health Officer of Canada.
Capacity enhancement (see recommendations 4–7)
The SARS crisis has demonstrated the diminished capacity within the public health system. The Greater Toronto Area (GTA), with one of Canada’s most sophisticated public and acute health systems, has not been able to manage the SARS crisis adequately and carry on other health programs. The acute care system virtually ground to a halt in dealing with SARS. There was little or no surge capacity in Canada’s largest city. We should be grateful that SARS did not first strike a smaller centre in a far less-advantaged region of Canada.
A critical element of the public health system is its workforce and the health professionals within the acute care system, such as hospital-based infectious disease specialists and emergency physicians who are the front-line interface. Let there be no doubt that the ongoing efforts of the GTA front-line providers are nothing short of heroic. However, the lack of coordinated contingency planning of hospital and community-based disease control efforts was striking. The overall shortage of critical care professionals and the inability of governments to quickly deploy the required professionals to areas of need contributed to the enormous strain on the public and health care system.
Considering the importance of the public health system and its clearly limited capacity to protect and promote the health of Canadians, it is incomprehensible that we do not know how much is actually spent on the system. It is imperative that public health expenditures and capacity, in terms of both physical and human resources, be tracked and reported publicly.
The CMA recommends a $1-billion, 5-year capacity-enhancement program to be coordinated with and through the new Canadian public health agency.
Research, surveillance and communications (see recommendations 8–10)
Canada’s ability to respond to public health threats and acute events, such as SARS, and to maintain its effective public health planning and program development depends on sound research, surveillance and rapid, real-time communications.
A concerted pan-Canadian effort is required to take full advantage of our capacity for interdisciplinary research on public health, including infectious disease prevention and control measures. New-millennium challenges require moving beyond old-millennium responses. Enhanced surveillance is an overdue and integral part of public health, performing an essential function in early detection and response to threats of infectious diseases. Mandatory national reporting of identified diseases by all provinces and territories is critical for national and international surveillance.
During times of crisis, rapid communication to the public, public health staff and front-line clinicians is of critical importance, but in many jurisdictions impossible. We tested our systems during the SARS outbreak and they came up short.
The CMA recommends a one-time federal investment to enhance technical capacity to allow for real-time communication.
The CMA believes that its proposed three-pronged strategy, as set out in the attached recommendations, will go a long way toward addressing shortfalls of the Canadian public health system. Action now will help to ensure that Canadians can once again be confident that they are protected from any future threat of new infectious diseases. Action now will help Canada regain its position as a leader in public health.
We wish the advisory committee well in its deliberations and offer the CMA’s assistance at any time in clarifying the strategies set out in our submission.
Recommendations to the National Advisory Committee on SARS and Public Health
Legislative reform ($20 million / 5 years*)
1. The enactment of a Canada Emergency Health Measures Act that would consolidate and enhance existing legislation, allowing for a more rapid national response, in cooperation with the provinces and territories, based on a graduated, systematic approach, to health emergencies that pose an acute and imminent threat to human health and safety across Canada.
2. The creation of a Canadian Office for Disease Surveillance and Control (CODSC) as the lead Canadian agency in public health, operating at arm’s length from government.
3. The appointment of a Chief Public Health Officer of Canada to act as the lead scientific voice for public health in Canada; to head the Canadian Office for Disease Surveillance and Control; and to work with provinces and territories to develop and implement a pan-Canadian public health action plan.
Capacity enhancement ( $1.2 billion / 5 years*)
4. The creation of a Canadian Centre of Excellence for Public Health, under the auspices of the CODSC, to invest in multidisciplinary training programs in public health, establish and disseminate best practices among public health professionals.
5. The establishment of a Canadian Public Health Emergency Response Service, under the auspices of the CODSC, to provide for the rapid deployment of human resources (e.g., emergency pan-Canadian locum programs) during health emergencies.
6. Tracking and public reporting of public health expenditures and capacity (both physical and human resources) by the Canadian Institute for Health Information and Statistics Canada, on behalf of the proposed Canadian Office for Disease Surveillance and Control.
7. Federal government funding in the amount of $1 Billion over 5 years to build adequate and consistent surge capacity across Canada and improve coordination among federal, provincial/territorial and municipal authorities to fulfill essential public health functions.
Research, surveillance and communications ($310 million / 5 years*)
8. An immediate, sequestered grant of $200 million over 5 years to the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to initiate an enhanced conjoint program of research with the Institute of Population and Public Health and the Institute of Infection and Immunity that will expand capacity for interdisciplinary research on public health, including infectious disease prevention and control measures.
9. The mandatory reporting by provinces and territories of identified infectious diseases to the newly established Chief Public Health Officer of Canada to enable appropriate communications, analyses and intervention.
10. The one-time infusion of $100 million, with an additional $2 million a year, for a “REAL” (rapid, effective, accessible and linked) Health Communication and Coordination Initiative to improve technical capacity to communicate with front line public health providers in real time during health emergencies.
*See Appendix 2: Estimated cost of implementing recommendations.
The CMA prepared this submission in response to an invitation from Dr. Naylor to provide input to the National Advisory Committee on SARS and Public Health.
We applaud this initiative and welcome the opportunity to present the views of Canada’s medical community to the committee. The CMA’s basic message is that our health protection laws are woefully outdated and the public health system is stretched beyond capacity. This submission draws on our long history of engagement in public health in Canada and our experience both post-September 11, 2001 and with SARS. It builds on the knowledge and experience of our members, national specialist affiliated societies and provincial and territorial divisions. (We acknowledge, in particular, the outstanding efforts of the Ontario Medical Association and the Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians in battling SARS.)
In this submission, we examine the lessons to be learned from our experience with the SARS outbreak and reflect on both the immediate and longer-term needs of the public health system as a whole. The objectives of the public health action plan proposed by the CMA are, first, to realize a clearer alignment of authority and accountability in times of extraordinary health emergencies and, second, to enhance the system’s capacity to respond to public health threats across the country, including those posed by preventable chronic disease.
The public health system in Canada lies at the heart of our community values. It is the quintessential “public good” and is central to the continued good health of the population. When the public health system is working well, few are even aware that it is at work! Only when something goes terribly wrong — like the contamination of the blood supply in the 1980s, the Walkerton tragedy or SARS — is the integral, ongoing role of public health recognized.
Our public health system is the first — and often the only — line of defence against emerging and ongoing infectious and noninfectious threats to the health of Canadians. But we are only as strong as the weakest link in the emergency response chain of survival. As most health threats know no boundaries, our public health system must be in a constant state of “battle readiness.” We can ill afford any weakness in our public health preparedness. In today’s climate of SARS, West Nile Virus, mad cow disease and monkey pox, the mere thought that the public health system may be stretched beyond capacity strikes fear into the hearts of Canadians.
Physicians have always been an integral part of the public health system serving as medical officers of health, specialists in infectious disease and community medicine (who will not remember the stalwart efforts of Dr. Donald Low on SARS?) and in other related roles. Indeed, public health cannot successfully fulfill its mandate without the cooperation and commitment of front-line clinicians.
The CMA has been warning for some time that our system is stretched to capacity in dealing with everyday demands, let alone responding to crises. Canada’s physicians have repeatedly called for governments to enhance public health capacity and strengthen the public health infrastructure throughout Canada. For example, the CMA’s submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance’s prebudget consultations on October 22, 2001 called for substantial investments in public health and emergency response as a first step to improve the public health system infrastructure and its surge capacity.
This submission not only reiterates our previous recommendations, but also outlines specific actions that the CMA believes must be taken to ensure a strong public health system in Canada.
The Enduring Impact of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome
SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome): in February 2003, these four letters sent massive shock waves around the world, causing widespread fear and confusion among health care officials and citizens of many countries. The “fear factor” extended across Canada as people realized the full threat of SARS.
Since SARS was first identified in a patient in Toronto in March 2003, 438 probable or suspected cases have been reported to Health Canada and 38 people have died (as of June 23, 2003). However, these numbers do not reflect the full impact of the outbreak. The number of indirect deaths due to system shutdown will never be known.
Local public health authorities across the country went on high alert. Those in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) as well as their provincial counterparts diverted almost all of their resources to respond to the crisis.
Acute care services were adversely affected as stringent infection-control and screening measures were put into place to control the spread of SARS. In the GTA, the health system — acute and public — was brought to its knees. Over half of the reported SARS cases involved front-line providers as the outbreak largely affected health care settings. Approximately 20 physicians in Ontario contracted SARS and close to 1000 were quarantined. Thousands of nurses and other health care workers also faced quarantine, some more than once.
Institutions closed their doors, limiting access to emergency departments, clinics and physicians’ offices. Intensive care units were full and surgeries were cancelled. Front-line health care professionals involved in critical care were stretched to their physical and mental limits. Others found themselves underutilized due to the impact of the infection-control measures on their practice settings. Feast and famine co-existed.
Although the outbreak was mainly confined to health care settings, the entire GTA felt the effects. Upwards of 20,000 people entered voluntary quarantine. Businesses were affected. The tourism industry is still reeling. The disruption that SARS caused continues to reverberate through health care systems and economies.
In response to urgent requests from both the Ontario Medical Association and Health Canada, the CMA mobilized its membership and assisted in the country’s response to SARS. Everything that could be done was done to facilitate bringing in qualified personnel to relieve those on the front line and make appropriate information available in real time. The CMA has learned its own lessons, both positive and negative. A full chronology of CMA activity is attached as Appendix 3.
It has become abundantly clear that Canada’s public health system was ill prepared to deal with the SARS outbreak. If not for the heroic efforts of public health officials, health care providers and research scientists, Canada’s experience would have been much worse.
Public health in Canada
Public health is the science and art of protecting and promoting health, preventing disease and injury, and prolonging life. It complements the health care system, which focuses primarily on treatment and rehabilitation, sharing the same goal of maximizing the health of Canadians. However, the public health system is distinct from other parts of the health system in two key respects: its primary emphasis is on preventing disease and disability and its focus is on the health needs of populations rather than those of specific individuals.
Public health is the systematic response to infectious diseases. It also ensures access to clean drinking water, good sanitation and the control of pests and other disease vectors. Further, it is immunization clinics and programs promoting healthy lifestyles. But it is also there to protect Canadians when they face a public health crisis like SARS. If the public health system is fully prepared to carry out essential services, then communities across the country will be better protected from acute health events.
The reality in Canada today is that a strong, consistently and equitably resourced and integrated public health system does not exist. Public health systems across Canada are fragmented — a patchwork of programs, services and resources across the county. In reality, it is a group of multiple systems with varying roles, strengths and linkages.
Each province has its own public health legislation. Most legislation focuses on the control of communicable diseases. Public health services are funded through a variable mix of provincial and municipal funding formulae, with inconsistent overall strategies and results, and with virtually no meaningful role for input from health professionals via organizations such as the CMA, or the federal level, in terms of strategic direction or resources.
Federal legislation is limited to the blunt instrument of the Quarantine Act and a variety of health protection-related acts. (e.g., Food and Drugs Act, Hazardous Products Act, Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, Radiation Emitting Devices Act) Some of the laws, such as the Quarantine Act, date back to the late 19th century. Taken as a whole, the legislation does not clearly identify the public health mandate, roles and responsibilities of the different levels of government. In many cases, the assignment of authorities and accountabilities is anachronistic.
Moreover, there is little information available on the functioning and financing of Canada’s public health system. There is no “one-stop shopping” for authoritative information on public health issues.
In 2001, a working group of the Federal, Provincial and Territorial Advisory Committee on Population Health assessed the capacity of the public health system through a series of key informant interviews and literature reviews. The consistent finding was that public health had experienced a loss of resources and there was concern for the resiliency of the system infrastructure to respond consistently and proactively to the demands placed on it. Significant disparities were observed between “have” and “have-not” provinces and regions in their capacity to address public health issues.
The report’s findings are consistent with previous assessments by the Krever Commission and the Auditor General of Canada. In 1999, the Auditor General said that Health Canada was unprepared to fulfill its responsibilities in public health; communication between multiple agencies was poor; and weaknesses in the key surveillance system impeded the effective monitoring of injuries and communicable and non-communicable diseases. In 1997, Justice Horace Krever reported that the “public health departments in many parts of Canada do not have sufficient resources to carry out their duties.”
The Challenges Ahead
The 21st century brings with it an awesome array of new public health risks and ancient foes. Not all of them can be identified at the present time. New diseases (e.g., SARS, West Nile Virus) will likely continue to emerge. Dr. Alan Bernstein, President of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, recently noted that SARS is here to stay. Old threats, such as contamination of a community water supply (e.g., Walkerton), can strike quickly if vigilance is relaxed or delegated to third parties. This century will likely bring greater focus on threats from the physical environment. Our social environment is also a source of illness as shown by the recent epidemic trends in obesity and type 2 diabetes mellitus. A substantial minority of Canadians continue to smoke. In short, there is no lack of public health threats to Canadians.
Although for each of these issues, there is a clear role for clinical care, it is the public health system that will identify and monitor health threats and provide interventions to prevent disease and injury and improve health. The system will also be at the front lines in any response to a biological, chemical or nuclear event. The public health system must have the infrastructure to respond to a range of threats to health, including emergencies. The experience with SARS has reaffirmed that we do not have the system flexibility to respond to these events after they have occurred. It is vital that we take steps now “to embrace not just the essential elements of disease protection and surveillance but also new strategies and tactics capable of addressing global challenges.”<1>
CMA’S PROPOSED PUBLIC HEALTH ACTION PLAN
No one policy instrument can possibly address the multiple factors involved in meeting the public health challenge head on. Similarly, no one level of government or constituency (e.g., community medicine) can or should shoulder all of the responsibilities.
Although we need to restore public confidence quickly, we must also do what it takes to get it right. Accordingly, the CMA is proffering a three-pronged approach to meet the challenge:
* A legislative reform strategy
* A capacity enhancement strategy
* A research, surveillance and communication strategy.
These three broad strategies make up the CMA’s proposed 10-point Public Health Action Plan. Taken together, the CMA believes the Plan, if adopted, will serve us very well in the future.
Our experience with SARS — and the seeming lack of coordination between international, federal, provincial and local system levels — should be a massive wake-up call. It highlights the need for legislative reform to clarify the roles of governments with respect to the management of public health issues and threats.
Four years ago, national consultations on renewing federal health protection legislation<2> resulted in a recommendation that
* “The federal government must be given, either through legislation or through memoranda of understanding among provincial and territorial governments, the authority it needs to effectively address any outbreak of a communicable disease, where the health risk extends beyond provincial borders.
* “Federal health protection legislation should be amended to give Health Canada authority to act quickly and decisively in the event of a national health emergency... if it poses a serious threat to public health; affects particularly vulnerable segments of the population; exceeds the capacity of local authorities to deal with the risk; and involves pathogens that could be rapidly transmitted across national and international borders.”
Such legislative reform is consistent with the federal government’s well-recognized responsibility to act to protect public health and safety. It fits well with Health Minister McLellan’s recently announced plans to act now to review and update health protection legislation. The SARS outbreak has provided further experience to support these, and in our view, even stronger recommendations.
There is ample historical evidence to support the federal government’s role in the management of communicable disease, a role that dates back to the time of confederation. The quarantine power was the initial manifestation of this authority in 1867 under Section 91 of the British North America Act and it gave the federal government the responsibility for ensuring the containment of infectious diseases. The outbreak of the Spanish Flu epidemic in 1918 further highlighted the need for coordinated national efforts and (at the urging of the CMA and others) resulted in the creation of the federal Department of Health in 1919. It would be reasonable to assume that legislators at the time had an expansive view of the need for centralized authority to deal with pan-Canadian health threats.
One hundred and thirty-five years after confederation, we have a highly mobile global community. This mobility and the attendant devastating speed with which diseases can spread demand a national response. Currently, there is tremendous variation in public health system capacity among the various provinces and territories and, more particularly, among municipalities and local authorities. Inconsistencies in provincial approaches to public health matters have resulted in significant disparities between and within the provinces.<3>
Health Canada’s mandate as set out in its enabling legislation states that “[t]he powers, duties and functions of the Minister extend to and include all matters over which Parliament has jurisdiction relating to the promotion and preservation of the health of the people of Canada.” The CMA believes that it is time for the federal government to take responsibility for public health matters that touch the lives of all Canadians.
The legal staffs at CMA, in consultation with external experts, have conducted a detailed review of existing legislation. We have concluded, as Health Minister McLellan recently announced, that there is a long overdue need to consolidate and rationalize current related laws. We also believe there is now public support and a demonstrable need to enhance the powers afforded the federal government. We recognize that the government has put forward Bill C-17, the Public Safety Act and a review of health protection legislation is underway.
We believe that amending and updating existing legislation is necessary but not sufficient to address today’s public health challenges. The CMA is calling for the enhancement of the federal government’s “command and control” powers in times of national health emergencies. Specifically we are recommending a three-pronged legislative approach.
1. The CMA recommends
The enactment of a Canada Emergency Health Measures Act that would consolidate and enhance existing legislation, allowing for a more rapid national response, in cooperation with the provinces and territories, based on a graduated, systematic approach, to health emergencies that pose an acute and imminent threat to human health and safety across Canada.
The existing Emergencies Act gives the federal government the authority to become involved in public welfare emergencies when regions of the country are faced with “an emergency that is caused by a real or imminent... disease in human beings... that results or may result in a danger to life or property... so serious as to be a national emergency.” However, to use this power, the federal government must declare a “national emergency,” which itself has political and economic ramifications, particularly from an international perspective, and mitigates against its use. The CMA believes that this all-or-nothing approach is not in the public’s best interest. The concept of emergency in the context of public health requires a different response from governments in the future.
Although we recognize that provincial and municipal governments currently have preplanned sets of responses to health threats, the CMA is proposing new legislation to allow for a rapid federal response to public health emergencies. The proposed Emergency Health Measures Act clarifies the roles and authority of governments and ensures a consistent and appropriate response with sufficient human and financial resources to protect Canadians faced with a public health emergency. Of utmost importance, all Canadians, regardless of their location, can be assured that the response to a health emergency will be delivered systematically by experts who can sustain the effort as needed.
The proposed legislation would be founded on a graduated approach that would give the federal government the powers necessary to deal with a crisis, in an appropriately measured way, as it escalates. As the emergency grows, the government could implement stronger measures as required to meet the challenge — in principle, akin to the Unites States’ homeland security levels, which increase as the level of threat increases (see Appendix 4 for a description of the Canadian Emergency Health Alert System).
The CMA strongly believes that the federal government must have jurisdiction to act when the ability of the provinces to respond to public health emergencies is so disparate. The inability of one province to stop the spread of virulent disease would have serious implications for the health of residents in the rest of the country. The federal government and the provinces must work together to ensure the safety of all our citizens.
2. The CMA recommends
The creation of a Canadian Office for Disease Surveillance and Control (CODSC) as the lead Canadian agency in public health, operating at arm’s length from government.
Although some provinces have established centres of public health expertise, considering the breadth of public health issues, the relative population sizes and differences in wealth, it will never be feasible to have comprehensive centres of public health expertise for each province and territory.
Even if one achieved this, there would increasingly be issues of economies of scale and unnecessary duplication among centres. This issue is not unique to Canada.1 The CMA is proposing the development of a Canadian Office for Disease Surveillance and Control (CODSC) operating at arm’s length from any level of government. CODSC would have overall responsibility for protecting the health of Canadians.
The Office would provide credible information to enhance health decisions and promote health by developing and applying disease prevention and control, environmental health and health promotion and education activities.
CODSC would enable a consistent and coordinated approach to public health emergencies as well as play a key role in the prevention and control of chronic diseases and injuries. It would provide national health surveillance, apolitical scientific expertise, system development including standards and guideline development, development and dissemination of an evidence base for public health interventions, skills training and transfer of expertise (i.e., through secondment of staff) and resources, including funding for core programs, to other levels of the system (e.g., provincial and local).
3. The CMA recommends
The appointment of a Chief Public Health Officer of Canada to act as the lead scientific voice for public health in Canada; to head the Canadian Office for Disease Surveillance and Control; and to work with provinces and territories to develop and implement a pan-Canadian public health action plan.
Many national or federal–provincial–territorial committees play an important role in recommending public health strategies or actions. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization and the Federal, Provincial and Territorial Advisory Committee on Population Health are two excellent examples. But there is currently no single credible public health authority in whom is vested, through legislation or federal–provincial–territorial agreement, the overall responsibility for pan-Canadian public health issues.
Therefore, the CMA is recommending the appointment of a Chief Public Health Officer of Canada. Potential roles for this officer may include:
* Serve as the head of the Canadian Office for Disease Surveillance and Control
* Serve as the national spokesperson for public health with the independence to comment on critical public health issues
* Report annually on the health of the population
* Develop, implement and report independently to parliament on public health system performance measures
* Lead processes to identify and address gaps in the nation’s public health system.
The public health system infrastructure is the foundation that supports the planning, delivery and evaluation of public health activities. In March 2001, the Federal, Provincial and Territorial Advisory Committee on Public Health<3> reported,
In the view of respondents the system ‘is lacking in depth.’ This means that a sustained crisis would seriously compromise other programming. While the research does not indicate that the public health system in Canada is strained beyond capacity, there does appear to be agreement that there is a capacity to manage just one crisis at a time.
However, just 2 years later, the GTA, an area with one of Canada’s most sophisticated public and acute care health systems, was not able to manage the SARS crisis and carry on any other programs. The Ontario government recognized this state of affairs when, on 12 June, Ontario’s Health Minister Tony Clement said, “I was concerned that if we had one additional large-scale crisis, that the system would crash.”
Important public health issues ranging from immunization to suicide prevention went virtually unaddressed, as the public health capacity in Toronto was overwhelmed. In the absence of a mechanism to share resources within the system and a general lack of overall system surge capacity, the city of Toronto and the province competed with each other to recruit trained staff from other health departments. The SARS outbreak has shown there is no surge capacity in Canada’s largest city. The acute care system in Toronto virtually ground to a halt in dealing with SARS. We must ask ourselves what would have happened if SARS had struck first in a smaller centre in a far less-advantaged region of Canada.
Clearly Canada is not fully prepared. We should not have needed a crisis to tell us this. The CMA sees several components to rebuilding the capacity of the public health system.
Public health human resources
For the essential functions of the public health system to be realized, public health agencies need a workforce with appropriate and constantly updated skills. Canada’s public health workforce is extremely thin. There appear to be too few graduate-level public health professionals (i.e., those holding a master’s degree and physicians who are certified specialists in community medicine); those who do exist are not distributed equitably across jurisdictions. The scarcity of hospital-based infection control practitioners and emergency physicians within the acute care system and the lack of integration of hospital and community-based disease control efforts have been particularly striking during the SARS outbreak.
The knowledge and skills required for effective public health practice are not static. They continually evolve as new evidence is identified. However, continuing education programming for public health practitioners is woefully underdeveloped in Canada. Health Canada has made some limited progress in this area, but the issue needs to be addressed much more substantively.
4. The CMA recommends
The creation of a Canadian Centre of Excellence for Public Health, under the auspices of the CODSC, to invest in multidisciplinary training programs in public health, establish and disseminate best practices among public health professionals.
Canada has world-class expertise in public health. However, it does not have the depth of other countries, partly because we do not have a national multidisciplinary school of public health of the calibre of Harvard in Boston, Johns Hopkins in Baltimore and the School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in London.
A national school of public health, which might be based on a virtual network of centres nationwide, could
* Develop a plan to assess and address the substantial educational needs of new and existing public health staff
* Address the coordination of the various academic training programs to meet the needs of the field
* Ensure self-sufficiency of our public health workforce.
5. The CMA recommends
The establishment of a Canadian Public Health Emergency Response Service, under the auspices of the CODSC, to provide for the rapid deployment of human resources (e.g., emergency pan-Canadian locum programs) during health emergencies.
The SARS outbreak clearly demonstrated the need for a pre-planned approach to supporting and augmenting the public health and acute care workforce during a crisis. When health professionals in the GTA were overwhelmed, we were ill prepared to move health professionals in from other jurisdictions to help. Health professional associations like the CMA took the first steps in investigating and overcoming obstacles regarding licensure and insurance. We were taken aback when we found that the Ontario government had unilaterally awarded an exclusive contract to a for-profit company to arrange for emergency relief. The further delay caused by concerns about privacy, confidentiality and harmonizing fees hampered relief efforts. The deployment of health professionals during health emergencies is too important to be left in the hands of for-profit organizations as it was during the SARS experience.
An established Canadian Public Health Emergency Response Service, operating on a non-profit basis, would
* Maintain a “reserve” of public health professionals who are fully trained and could be deployed to areas of need during times of crisis
* Co-ordinate the logistics of issues such as portable licensing, malpractice and disability insurance
* Identify funding for staff training and a more equitable distribution of numbers and skills among jurisdictions.
Investment in public health
Considering the importance of the public health system and its capacity to protect and promote the health of Canadians, it is amazing that we have no reliable or comprehensive information about how much money is actually spent on the system or what public health human resources are available across Canada. This is partially due to the lack of uniform definitions, service delivery mechanisms and accounting practices. Even in the absence of reliable data on public health expenditures, there is ample evidence that the public health system continues to operate under serious resource constraints across Canada.
6. The CMA recommends
Tracking and public reporting of public health expenditures and capacity (both physical and human resources) by the Canadian Institute for Health Information and Statistics Canada, on behalf of the Canadian Office for Disease Surveillance and Control.
In its latest report on health system expenditures, the CIHI states that 6% of total expenditures in 2000 were spent on “public health and administration.”<4> The inclusion of administrative costs in this figure means that public health funding is substantially less than 6% of health system expenditures.2
Federal Government Estimates report that Health Canada allocated $433 million in 2003–2004 for health promotion and prevention activities with spending scheduled to decrease to $308 million by 2005–2006 or by almost 30%. This decrease in spending exemplifies a decade that has seen tremendous fluctuations in spending on public health activities.
The situation is alarming when looked at from a current-dollar basis; there was an 8.8% decrease in funding of public health activities between 1994–1995 and 1997–1998. In fact, federal spending on public health on a constant dollar basis did not regain its 1994–1995 level until 2000–2001.
Although the late 1990s saw some reinvestment in public health initiatives, the most recent 2003–2004 estimates suggest that, once again, federal investment in public health will decrease dramatically over the next few years. Indeed, public health continues to represent only a small fraction of total federal direct spending on health (9.7% in 2002–2003).
At the provincial level, although we cannot distance public health from administration, we know that it fell victim to the brutal climate of fiscal retrenchment of the 1990s, when in real terms provincial–territorial per capita health spending declined for 5 consecutive years after 1991–1992.
During this period, public health was further destabilized by regionalization. According to the Survey of Public Health Capacity in Canada most provincial and territorial officials reported reductions in programming as a result of the transfer of funding and responsibility to regional structures. Although Ontario did not regionalize, in 1997 public health funding was downloaded to municipalities, which left public health departments scrambling to find funds to meet existing programs as well as new services that were mandated by the provincial Health Protection and Promotion Act.
Whether talking about federal or provincial–territorial jurisdictions, we can no longer afford to have funding for health and safety subject to the vagaries of financial cycles.
However, what perhaps is most alarming is the potentially large economic impact of underinvestment in this area. Although the net cost of the SARS outbreak in Ontario is not yet known, recent estimates suggest that it could be as high as $2.1 billion.3 Given this, the proverbial ounce of prevention that is worth a pound of cure comes to mind suggesting that a relatively modest increase in funding for public health could potentially result in substantial savings in the longer term.
7. The CMA recommends
Federal government funding in the amount of $1 billion over 5 years to build adequate and consistent surge capacity across Canada and improve coordination among federal, provincial/territorial and municipal authorities to fulfill essential public health functions.
The best way to ensure that the public health system is capable of addressing the range of public health threats, including emergencies, is to significantly increase investment in its capacity. This investment must assist all levels of the system to fulfill essential public health functions, with particular attention to local and regional agencies. The strategic national leadership that we are calling for includes the development of new mechanisms for federal cost sharing of basic public health services and the guarantee of a basic core set of local programs serving everyone in Canada, regardless of where they live.
The system also needs to receive targeted funds so that it can do its work smarter and more effectively. Priority areas for this targeted funding should include development of an integrated information system and staff training.
Research, surveillance and communications
Canada’s ability to respond to emerging public health threats and acute events, such as the SARS outbreak, and to maintain its effective public health planning and program development depends on sound research, surveillance and rapid, real-time communications.
8. The CMA recommends
An immediate sequestered grant of $200 million over 5 years to the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to initiate an enhanced conjoint program of research with the Institute of Population and Public Health and the Institute of Infection and Immunity that will expand capacity for interdisciplinary research on public health, including infectious disease prevention and control measures.
Similar to the efforts in clinical care to support the use of evidence-based practices, interventions in public health must be based on research, evidence and best practices. A national effort should be undertaken to develop and make widely available, on an ongoing basis, a comprehensive and up-to-date review of the evidence base for public health programs. This information would support effective practice, enhance public health research capacity and support other infrastructure elements (e.g., minimum programs and services, performance measurement, system funding). It could also reduce unnecessary duplication of efforts by different public health agencies.
We applaud the tremendous work of the unique trans-Canada partnership of 4 CIHR-funded research teams who, in just 11 weeks, discovered the complete DNA sequence of the coronavirus associated with SARS. This is a perfect example of what can be accomplished when our talented research teams work together. The recent announcement by the CIHR of an integrated national strategy for research on SARS reflects the intent of this recommendation for other public health challenges.
9. The CMA recommends
The mandatory reporting by provinces and territories of identified infectious diseases to the newly established Chief Public Health Officer of Canada to enable appropriate communications, analyses and interventions.
Public health surveillance is defined as the ongoing, systematic collection, analysis and interpretation of health data necessary for designing implementing and evaluating public health programs. It is an integral part of the public health system and performs an essential function in early detection and response to threats to human health.
Current surveillance systems for communicable and noncommunicable diseases are inadequate to allow public health professionals to detect and react to major health issues. For effective public health management, surveillance must be a continuous process covering a range of integrated data sources to provide useful and timely information.
10. The CMA recommends
The one-time infusion of $100 million, with an additional $2 million a year, for a “REAL” (rapid, effective, accessible and linked) Health Communication and Coordination Initiative to improve technical capacity to communicate with front line public health providers in real time during health emergencies.
In today’s world, international travel, business and migration can move infectious diseases around the world at jet speed. But during the SARS experience, governments and public health authorities were unable to communicate in real time with health professionals on the front lines. Gaps in the basic communication infrastructure prevent public health agencies from talking with each other in real time, and also hinder exchanges between public health staff, private clinicians and other sources of information about emerging new diseases.
In response to requests from both the Ontario Medical Association and Health Canada, the CMA mobilized its communication networks to provide physicians with critical information about public health management of SARS. In less than 48 hours, via email and fax, we reached over 45,000 physicians with authoritative information. Through the good offices of the Canadian Council of Health Services Accreditation, this information was also made available to over 1500 accredited health facilities across Canada.
Although necessity caused the limits of the system to be tested, SARS highlighted the fact that we do not have information systems in place to facilitate real-time communication with health professionals. Information is the key to effective response during times of emergency. Information in real time is also essential for effective day-to-day health care to provide, for example, information on adverse drug reactions.
SARS brought out the best in Canada and Canadians’ commitment to one another. It also turned a bright, sometimes uncomfortable spotlight on the ability of this country’s health care system to respond to a crisis, be it an emerging disease, a terrorist attack, a natural disaster or a large-scale accident. We must learn from the SARS experience and quickly move to rebuild the infrastructure of a strong public health system.
The CMA believes that this 10-point Public Health Action Plan will go a long way toward addressing shortfalls in the Canadian public health system. Action now will help to ensure that Canadians can be confident once again that their governments are doing all they can to protect them from the threat of new infectious diseases.
We wish the advisory committee well in its deliberations and offer the CMA’s assistance at any time in clarifying the strategies set out in our submission.
APPENDIX 1: THE CMA’S PUBLIC HEALTH ACTION PLAN
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APPENDIX 2: ESTIMATED COST OF IMPLEMENTING THE RECOMMENDATIONS
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Estimated cost over 5 years
Legislative and institutional reform
1. Canada Emergency Health Measures Act
2. Canadian Office for Disease Surveillance and Control (CODSC)
3. Chief Public Health Officer of Canada
4. Canadian Centre of Excellence for Public Health
5. Canadian Public Health Emergency Response Service
6. Canadian Institute for Health Information and Statistics Canada
7. Surge capacity
Research, surveillance and communications
8. Canadian Institutes of Health Research
9. Mandatory reporting
Included under 2 and 3 above
10. Enhanced reporting
a. Work is currently underway to break-out public health from the current category of “public health and administration.”
b. This is an incremental investment in addition to funding currently available under Health Canada’s Health Promotion and Prevention Strategic Outcome area.
c. Funding must be sequestered specifically for new initiatives related to public health. Additional money could also be acquired through funding from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation, which received an additional $500 million in 2002–2003 (announced in the 2003 federal budget) to enhance the Foundation’s support of public health infrastructure.
APPENDIX 3: CHRONOLOGY OF THE CMA’S RESPONSE TO SARS
* First known case of atypical pneumonia (SARS) occurs in Guangdong province, China
* World Health Organization (WHO) receives reports from the Chinese Ministry of Health about SARS; 305 persons affected and 5 deaths
* Canadian index case arrives in Hong Kong for a family visit
* Canadian index case is a guest at the Metropole hotel in Kowloon
* A medical doctor from Guangdong checks into Metropole hotel in Kowloon. The physician, who became ill a week before staying at the hotel, is considered to be the original source of the infection
* This leads subsequently to outbreaks in Vietnam, Hong Kong, Singapore and Canada after guests leave the hotel and return home
* Canadian index case returns home to Toronto
* Canadian index patient dies in Toronto, 9 days after the onset of her illness
* WHO issues global alert about SARS
* National and international media reports begin appearing about SARS
* The Canadian index patient’s son, Canada’s second SARS victim, dies 15 days after the onset of his illness
* First reports from Toronto about deaths from SARS
* Health Canada receives notice of SARS patients in Ontario and British Columbia; begins regular updates on SARS on its website
* Health Canada initiates its pan-Canadian communication infrastructure, based on its pandemic influenza contingency plans
* CMA calls Health Canada to offer assistance and request “real time information.” CMA immediately placed on list of participants in daily pan-Canadian teleconferences.
* CMA adds a SARS page to its website home page (cma.ca) with CMA Shortcuts to expert information and daily updates
* CMA alerts all its divisions and affiliates to the Health Canada and CMA SARS web pages
* eCMAJ includes SARS updates on its website
* CMA divisions add a link to SARS information for health professionals to their websites
* Health Canada requests CMA’s assistance to inform physicians of the public health management guidelines for SARS
* CMA sends an email to 33,000 members (copied to divisions and affiliated societies) to alert them to Health Canada’s SARS public health management documents and SARS web page
* CMA CEO initiates cross-directorate task force and deploys dedicated staff resources. Some other CMA programs deferred/delayed. Task force begins daily staff SARS Working Group meetings
* CMA communicates with the Ontario Medical Association on a daily basis
* CMA holds teleconference with divisional communication directors re: SARS
* CMA contacts the British Medical Association to establish whether we can secure a supply of masks from European sources
* CMA organizes a teleconference among national health care organizations to discuss SARS developments
* CMA posts electronic grand rounds on SARS for clinicians on cma.ca;
* CMA sends email and fax communication to physicians to raise awareness of SARS e-grand rounds on cma.ca
* Working with the Mental Health Support Network of Canada, CMA prepares and posts on cma.ca, fact sheets for health professionals and the public on coping with the stress caused by SARS
* CMA hosts second teleconference among national health care organizations to discuss SARS developments
* Electronic grand rounds on SARS updated and promoted through cma.ca
* CMA sends email to membership requesting volunteers for the CMA Volunteer Emergency SARS Relief Network
* CMA consults with the American Medical Association regarding the possibility of US physicians volunteering for the relief network
* CMA CEO sends letter to deputy minister of health about the urgent need to create a national ministerial SARS task force
April 30-May 1
* CMA participates in Health Canada-sponsored international SARS conference in Toronto
* Health Canada announces the National Advisory Group on SARS and Public Health, headed by Dr. David Naylor
* Opinion editorial by Dr. Dana Hanson, CMA president, on SARS and public health surge capacity published in The Ottawa Citizen;
* CMA organizes a meeting of national health care organizations to discuss lessons learned from SARS
* CMA receives an invitation to submit a brief to the National Advisory Group on SARS and Public Health
* CMA sends e-mail to targeted segment of its membership (community medicine, public health, infectious disease and medical microbiology) requesting volunteers for the CMA Volunteer Emergency SARS Relief Network
* CMA president outlines the CMA’s Public Health Action Plan during a speech at the Canadian Club in Toronto
* CMA submission to the National Advisory Committee on SARS and public health
APPENDIX 4: CMA’S PROPOSED HEALTH EMERGENCY ALERT SYSTEM
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Health alert may be declared in:
* Any area under federal jurisdiction
* Any community or province/territory with a risk of transmission to other provinces/territories or countries
* Any community or province/territory with insufficient resources to manage the public health emergency within the capacity of the local public health authorities
Definition of the area of concern
Voluntary quarantine for individuals or property
Chief public health officer takes the lead in coordinating the response
Regulation or prohibition of travel
Reviewing and updating health emergency procedures
Determination of local capacity to lead and respond
Coordinating necessary response efforts with national disaster relief agencies, armed forces or law enforcement agencies at the federal–provinical–territorial level
Medium to significant limitations of civil rights and freedoms
Assessing future resource requirements
Deployment of a national response team
Medium to significant limitations of civil rights and freedoms
Evacuation of persons and the removal of personal property
Providing the public with necessary information.
Discretionary deployment of the national response team or on request of local authorities
Quarantine of individuals and/or property with enforcement by law
Implementing interventions, as appropriate, and emergency response actions
Regulation of the distribution and availability of essential goods, services and resources
Assessing further refinement of actions
Restricting access to the area of concern
Requisition, use or disposition of property
Required consent of governor in council
Lead response team
1. Garrett, L. Betrayal of trust: the collapse of global public health. New York: Hyperion; 2000.
2. Health Canada. National consultations, summary report: renewal of the federal health protection legislation. Ottawa: Health Canada; 1999.
3. Federal, Provincial and Territorial Advisory Committee on Population Health. Survey of public health capacity in Canada: highlights. Ottawa: The Committee; 2001.
4. Canadian Institutes for Health Information. National health expenditure trends: 1975–2002. Ottawa: CIHI; 2002.
5. Lévesque M. The economic impact of SARS. TD Economics Topic Paper. TD Bank Financial Group; 6 May 2003. Available: http://www.td.com/economics/topic/ml0503_sars.html (viewed: 20 June 2003).
1 Many countries (e.g., United States, United Kingdom, Norway and the Netherlands) have developed critical masses of public health expertise at the national level. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States, which has a critical mass, great depth of scientific expertise and the tools and fiscal resources to fund public health programs at both state and local levels through demonstration projects, is a sterling example of the effectiveness of such a central agency.
2 A review by the Canadian Institute for Health Information recognizes the problem with current expenditure tracking systems and has recommended separating public health from government administrative costs and prepayment administration in future health system cost estimates.
3 On 6 May, the TD Bank released a paper<5> suggesting that the cost of SARS to the Canadian economy may be between $1.5 and $2.1 billion.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) appreciates the opportunity to appear before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health to provide our observations concerning Bill C-12, an Act to prevent the introduction and spread of communicable disease, which will repeal and replace the current Quarantine Act.
Since our founding in 1867, the CMA has had a long tradition in the field of public health and infectious diseases. For example, in 1885 we worked with the federal government to prevent an outbreak of cholera in Canada, while in 1891 we began a long campaign to encourage governments to deal with tuberculosis. And fast forward to 2003 and SARS, CMA worked along with many levels of government to deal with this public health crisis.
While the CMA is particularly interested in how the proposed legislation will impact the practices of our more than 58,000 members across the country, we have reviewed this legislation through the lens of what is in the best interest of patients and the public.
1) Comprehensive Approach to Public Health
Our comments call for and are embedded in the broader context of a comprehensive approach to public health. They are also based on previous recommendations CMA has made to the federal government including:
a) Response to the Health Protection Legislative Renewal initiative carried out by Health Canada (2004). In this submission, CMA identified the Quarantine Act as a piece of legislation the CMA believed merited urgent updating;
b) Review of the World Health Organizations’ draft revised International Health Regulations (IHR), (2004);
c) Submission to the Naylor Advisory Committee on SARS and Public Health (2003);
d) Submission to the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology during its study of public health issues (2003); and
e) Pre-budget submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance following September 11, 2001.
These submissions are all available on request, or at www.cma.ca.
The CMA is pleased that Parliament has identified revision of the Quarantine Act as a priority. The Act is more than a century old and the medical community and others have long called for it to be updated. Bill C-12 is an excellent start to modernizing the previous Act; however, we believe the proposed legislation does not go far enough in remedying its deficiencies.
In this submission we present eight key recommendations for your consideration, along with questions about particulars in the implementation process, which we suggest Parliament address in subsequent review of the Act and its regulations.
2) Recommendations for Consideration in Review of Bill C-12
Recommendation 1: The Act should be part of a larger, comprehensive Emergency Health Measures Plan.
In our brief to the Naylor Advisory Committee, CMA recommended the enactment of a comprehensive Emergency Health Measures Act, administered by the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada. This Act would consolidate and enhance existing legislation, allowing for a more rapid national response to health emergencies, in cooperation with the provinces and territories, based on a graduated, systematic approach. We also recommended that the Emergency Health Measures Act be part of a strong commitment, by all levels of government, to a public health strategy that also included a 5-year capacity enhancement program, development of research and surveillance capability; and funding for a communications initiative to improve technical capacity for real-time communication with front-line health providers during public health emergencies.
Recommendation 2: The Chief Public Health Officer of Canada must have authority to enforce the Act
The proposed legislation designates the Minister of Health as the person with ultimate responsibility for enforcing the Act; it grants the Minister sweeping powers including the power to overrule a health official’s quarantine. As medical professionals we believe that public health decisions should be made primarily on the basis of the best available medical and scientific evidence, and should be independent to the greatest extent possible of other considerations.
Therefore we believe that responsibility for the implementation of the Act should rest with the Public Health Agency of Canada, and with the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada, not with the Minister of Health. In the provinces and territories, Medical Officers of Health do not require approvals from their Ministers to exercise their functions as health professionals; the same should hold true at the federal level.
We understand that responsibility has been placed with the Minister of Health due to a lack of existing legislation setting out the mandate, roles, responsibilities and powers of the recently created Public Health Agency of Canada, and the newly appointed Chief Public Health Officer of Canada. We are also aware that enabling legislation is currently being prepared; we urge that this legislation be enacted as soon as possible. On enactment of this enabling legislation, the powers now vested in the Minister should be ceded to the Chief Public Health Officer.
Locating responsibility for administration of the Act within the Public Health Agency of Canada will also combine enforcement with other needed functions of surveillance, monitoring and linkage with international monitoring agencies. As we stressed in our previous recommendation, these must all be part of a comprehensive Canadian emergency response strategy.
Recommendation 3: The Act must address interprovincial as well as international traffic.
We are happy that the provisions of Bill C-12 apply to goods and travellers leaving as well as entering Canada. This was a deficiency identified in the previous Quarantine Act. However, the Act must also expressly address goods and travellers crossing provincial or territorial boundaries.
Currently, there is tremendous variation in public health system capacity among provinces and territories and, more particularly, among municipalities and local authorities. Inconsistencies in provincial approaches to public health matters have resulted in significant weaknesses in the “emergency shield” between and across provinces. Unless the potential consequences of these disparities are remedied through federal legislation they must, as a priority, be remedied through federal/provincial/territorial agreements.
The role of the Public Health Agency of Canada in facilitating, equalizing and monitoring the management of public health emergencies nationwide must be enshrined in the legislation that establishes the Agency. CMA also hopes that the development of a pan-Canadian Public Health Network, acknowledged in the 2004 Throne Speech, will facilitate the nationwide collaboration essential for adequate and appropriate response to health emergencies.
The CMA supports those provisions in Bill C-12 that give the Minister (preferably the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada) the power to establish quarantine centres anywhere in the country. In times of threat to national health security, such bold leadership would be both warranted and expected.
Recommendation 4: “Public Health Emergency” must be adequately defined.
Bill C-12 contains no definition of “public health emergency” or “public health emergency of international concern.” We believe these should be defined.1
Bill C-12 includes a schedule of specific communicable diseases to which its provisions would apply. We are concerned that this Schedule may limit Canada’s capacity to respond to emergencies. The next public health emergency may be a disease we have not heard of yet; or it may be a bio-terrorist attack, or a chemical or nuclear event. The Act must enable Canada to respond to new and emerging, as well as existing, threats to health.
The World Health Organizations’ draft International Health Regulations (IHR) has proposed a set of criteria for assessing emergencies; these include:
* Is the event serious?
* Is the event unexpected?
* Is there a significant risk of international spread?
The CMA urges the Canadian government to consider a hybrid approach incorporating both known disease states and criteria such as the ones used by the IHR, for assessing new diseases or other public health emergencies.
Recommendation 5: The Act, or its regulations, must clarify the roles, responsibilities and training requirements of emergency response personnel.
Some provisions of Bill C-12 have raised questions in our minds about the scope of practice of personnel involved in disease screening, and we would appreciate clarification on these points. For example:
Screening officers, the first point of contact for travelers entering or leaving Canada, are customs officers and others designated by the Minister. Their primary role under Section 14 of the Act is to use “non-invasive” screening technology to detect travelers entering and exiting Canada with communicable disease vectors, etc. According to Section 15 (3) screening officers, who are not health professionals, will have the power to “order any reasonable measure to prevent spread of a communicable disease”. Of what might these “reasonable measures” consist?
Quarantine officers, by definition in Section 5(2) are medical practitioners or other health professionals or anyone else in this “class of persons”. Since the quarantine officer’s job description includes physical assessment of travellers to determine whether they should be detained – a function that requires the expertise of a health professional - we would appreciate clarification of the phrase “in this class”. Similarly, under Section 26, the quarantine officer has the power to order the traveler “to comply with treatment”. Which officer—screening/quarantine or medical—might actually prescribe the course of treatment? This function must be specifically delegated to medical officers.
Bill C-12 gives authorities the powers to restrict personal movement and temporarily impound or seize property. The CMA believes that the government should also provide adequate resources and powers to allow for tracking down apparently well people who cross borders and are subsequently diagnosed with infectious diseases.
The Act or its regulations should also address factors that hinder deployment of qualified health professionals, such as portability of licensure and coverage for malpractice and disability insurance. CMA has previously called for the establishment of a Canadian Public Health Emergency Response Service that would maintain a “reserve” of public health professionals who could be deployed to areas of need during times of crisis, and which would co-ordinate the logistics of the issues above mentioned. This would improve the capacity of health professionals to be deployed quickly in times of health emergency, to locations where they are most needed.
Finally, CMA suggests that the Act or its regulations provide greater detail on training requirements for screening officers, to guarantee that they are appropriately trained.
Recommendation 6: Privacy and confidentiality must be respected and safeguarded.
Bill C-12 grants quarantine officers and the Minister some sweeping powers to arrest and detain people without warrants, including people who have refused to comply with testing. Though on rare occasions such measures may be required to protect the public, it is recognized that potential for their abuse may exist.
In addition, Bill C-12 raises questions about the degree to which personal health information might be exposed to scrutiny. We note that Section 51 authorizes a quarantine officer to “order any person to provide any information or record…the officer might reasonably require.” This provision could include patient medical records in a doctor’s office, particularly if the Bill guarantees travellers the right to request a “second opinion” which we assume could be obtained from any practicing physician in Canada. Similarly, Sections 55 and 56 appear to give the Minister authority to “collect medical information in order to carry out the purposes of this Act” and to “disclose personal information obtained under the Act” to a host of entities.
The CMA believes that the power to obtain and disclose information should be explicitly constrained and circumstances under which this power could be exercised must be outlined in the Act.
Recommendation 7: The role of physicians and other health care workers must be respected.
The health professional sector is on the front lines of response to health emergencies, as they were during the SARS outbreak. Therefore as a first principle the new Act should recognize the importance of health professionals having the power, subject to appropriate constraints, to make vital decisions in response to health emergencies. This is a legitimate delegation of power, because of the competencies of health professionals.
During the SARS outbreak of 2003, physicians and other health care providers were not only partners in containing infection; many became ill or died as well. Since health care workers expose themselves to infection as they respond to health emergencies, protocols should ensure that care and attention is paid to their safety, through measures such as ensuring ready availability of proper masks
The Act or regulations should address precautions required to protect quarantine officers and other health care workers from transmission of disease or the effects of becoming ill. For example, it should address compensation for quarantine officers who lose work because they become infected in the course of their duty.
We would be remiss in our review of this act if we did not pursue with this Committee the issue of compensation and indemnification programs for physicians and trainees requiring quarantine because of exposure to a communicable disease while providing medical service, or who are required to close their offices for other public health reasons, or who cannot practice in hospitals because of closure of hospitals for public health reasons.
Indeed, delegates to our annual general council meeting called on the CMA to do so. A number of these physicians were caught in such situations during the turmoil of the SARS outbreak.
Recommendation 8: Decision-making should be evidence-based.
At times, public perception and political considerations may widely influence the assessment and management of risk. While this is probably unavoidable, CMA believes that public policy should be founded first and foremost on the highest possible quality of scientific evidence. The Act should provide the requisite mechanisms to ensure that reviews of risk are independent and unbiased. We acknowledge, however, that this principle should not be rigidly applied; “we’re waiting for the evidence” must not be used as an excuse for inaction when action is urgently required.
3) Additional Comments
In addition to the above recommendations, additional concerns remain regarding implementation of the Act. In particular we note that many crucial components, such as how physical examinations are to be carried out (section 62(1), medical practitioner’s review process (section 62(d), and the protection of personal information (62(g) are left to regulations. These regulations must be developed as soon as possible.
We understand that the current Act constitutes “Phase I” of a longer-term strategy to enhance Canada’s capacity to respond to public health emergencies. Though we believe that the Quarantine Act merits attention at this time, we also believe that it should be looked at with a longer-term view. For instance, as we have already recommended, it should be incorporated into the broader legislative renewal of public health in Canada, with a view to enhancing this country’s ability to respond swiftly and effectively to public health emergencies, locally and nationwide.
Above all, Canada must ensure a sustained and substantial commitment of resources to its public health emergency response program. Without this, the best-written laws will be inadequate.
The Canadian Medical Association commends the Government of Canada for bringing this bill forward, and looks forward to working with the Government, and the Public Health Agency of Canada, to help keep Canadians safe in the event of a public health emergency.
1 A public health emergency has been defined by the US Model State Emergency Powers Act (http://www.publichealthlaw.net accessed July 7, 2003) as an occurrence or imminent threat of an illness or health condition of a temporary nature that is believed to be caused by:
* the appearance of a novel or previously controlled or eradicated infectious agent or biological toxin;
* a bioterrorist event;
* a natural disaster
* a chemical event or accidental release; or
* a nuclear event or accident
and that poses a high probability of any of the following harms:
* a large number of deaths in the affected population;
* a large number of serious or long-term disabilities in the affected population; or
* widespread exposure to an infectious or toxic agent that poses a significant risk of substantial future harm to a large number of people in the affected population.
The Canadian Medical Association is pleased to present this submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health regarding Bill C-422, National Lyme disease strategy.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is the national organization representing over 80,000 physicians in Canada; its mission is to serve and unite the physicians of Canada and to be the national advocate, in partnership with the people of Canada, for the highest standards of health and health care.
Lyme disease is a growing problem in Canada. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) there were 315 cases of Lyme disease reported in Canada in 2012 -two and one-half times more cases than the 128 reported in 2009, the year that it became a reportable disease. In the Ottawa area, cases have increased almost 8 fold from 6 in 2009 to 47 in 2013. The PHAC surveillance indicates that established populations of blacklegged ticks are spreading their geographic scope, and are increasing in number, in much of southern Canada. In 2013 the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention released new estimates of Lyme disease that was 10 times higher than the previous yearly reported number of 30,000 reported cases.1 This highlights the difficulty in establishing the true burden of illness from Lyme disease.
Why this matters to Canada's physicians
The Canadian Medical Association supports the implementation of a national strategy that can address the breath of public health and medical issues surrounding the spread of Lyme disease in Canada. As with any new infectious disease threat, Canada needs to ensure that we are prepared to address the impact of Lyme disease on Canadians.
CMA's policy on climate change and human health notes that changes in the range of some infectious disease vectors such as blacklegged ticks, are a possible consequence of climate change in Canada. Research has suggested that the tick vector of Lyme disease has been expanding into southeastern Canada which can lead to increased disease risk for those living in areas with tick populations.2
In this policy, CMA recommends that the federal government report diseases that emerge in relation to global climate change, and participate in field investigations, as with outbreaks of infectious diseases like Lyme disease, and develop and expand surveillance systems to include diseases caused by global climate change.
The World Medical Association Declaration of Delhi on Health and Climate Change urges colleges and universities to develop locally appropriate continuing medical and public health education on the clinical signs, diagnosis and treatment of new diseases that are introduced into communities as a result of climate change. Diagnosis of Lyme disease can be difficult, as signs and symptoms can be non-specific and found in other conditions. 3 If Lyme disease is not recognized during the early stages, patients may suffer seriously debilitating disease, which may be more difficult to treat.4 Given the increasing incidence of Lyme disease in Canada, continuing education for health care and public health professionals and a national standard of care would improve identification, treatment and management of Lyme disease. Greater awareness of where blacklegged ticks are endemic in Canada, as well as information on the disease and prevention measures, can help Canadians protect themselves from infection.
The CMA supports a national Lyme disease strategy which includes the federal, provincial and territorial governments and the medical and patient communities. This strategy must address concerns around research, surveillance, diagnosis, treatment and management of the disease and public health prevention measures will advance our current knowledge base, and improve the care and treatment of those suffering from Lyme disease.
Once again, CMA is pleased to provide this brief to the Standing Committee on Health as part of its study on this important issue. Canada's physicians recognize the importance of monitoring all emerging infectious diseases in Canada. In addition, Canada's physicians recognize the importance of developing strategies to treat, manage, and prevent Lyme disease in Canada.
1 CDC provides estimate of Americans diagnosed with Lyme disease each year, media release August 19, 2013 Accessed at http://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2013/p0819-lyme-disease.html on Feb 21, 2014.
2 Ogden, N., L. Lindsay, and P. Leighton. 2013. Predicting the rate of invasion of the agent of Lyme disease Borrelia burgdorferi. Journal of Applied Ecology. April, 2013. 50(2):510-518.
3 Mayo Clinic, accessed at http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/lyme-disease/basics/tests-diagnosis/con-20019701 on Feb 21, 2014.
4 Wormser GP, Dattwyler RJ, Shapiro ED, et al. The clinical assessment, treatment, and prevention of Lyme disease, human granulocytic anaplasmosis, and babesiosis: clinical practice guidelines by the Infectious Diseases Society of America. Clin Infect Dis 2006;43: 1089-134.
The Canadian Medical Association appreciates the opportunity to once again participate in the deliberations of the Sub-Committee on the Status of Persons with Disabilities.
I am accompanied today by Mr. William Tholl, Secretary General and Chief Executive Officer of the Canadian Medical Association.
Before I begin my remarks, I want to congratulate this Committee, and particularly the Chair of the Committee, for your efforts in regard to another federal program, the Disability Tax Credit. Your 2002 report on this program, Getting it Right for Canadians, no doubt led to some of the important measures in regard to disabilities undertaken by the government in the recent federal budget. The appointment of the Technical Advisory Committee on eligibility criteria and the $105 million allocated over the next two years to improve assistance for persons with disabilities is, in our view, significant progress.
The CMA appreciates this opportunity to discuss issues relating to the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) specifically as the program relates to the disability benefit. I will focus my remarks today in three areas:
* Physician experience with federal health programs and forms
* The need for common criteria
* Recommendations for action
While the subject matter before the Subcommittee today is the CPP disability program, we believe a broader focus on the issue of “disability” and federal health programs in general is needed. Issues related to the CPP disability program are issues common to other federal disability assistance programs.
THE PHYSICIAN EXPERIENCE
I don’t think I need to tell this Committee about the alarming shortages of physicians and other health care providers in Canada. Canada’s physicians have been stretched to the limit and beyond. Therefore, it’s more important than ever that physician’s time be managed in such a way as to maximize our interaction with patients. Unfortunately however, this is not the case.
Increasingly physicians are spending more and more of their time filling out forms. Forms for federal health programs such as the CPP or for-private insurance claims, pension benefits, tax credit eligibility, pharmaceutical plans and workers compensation claims to name just a few. To figure out all the various forms and determine eligibility you almost need to be a physician, a lawyer and a tax expert.
The result of the proliferation in the number of forms and their increasing complexity has resulted in less time for what physicians are trained to do; treating illness and providing care to patients. If you were to ask the average physician his or her greatest frustration with the health system, the response would be too much time spent administrating the system and not enough time in providing care to patients.
In regard to the CPP specifically, we have had in the past a good working relationship with the officials who manage this program. We have worked together well in the past in regard to improving the forms and bring great integrity to the program which has resulted in a reduction of appeals under the program. The CMA believes that in terms of a federal health program, the CPP set the template both in terms of administrative processes and cooperation that should be adopted across all federal programs in this area. That said, there is still considerable room for improvement.
I urge the Committee to take into consideration the cumulative impact these various health programs, such as the CPP, have on our health provider workforce. We must look at ways in which to relieve the heavy administrative burden so that physicians can concentrate their efforts on what they do best, patient care.
As with our presentation on the Disability Tax Credit program, the CMA recommends that a standard of fairness and equity be applied across all federal disability benefit programs. Currently, there is virtually a different definition and a different assessment process for each and every program. A common frustration of physicians is that while a patient qualifies as “disabled” under one disability program, that same patient does not under another.
When you look at some of the common criteria used to determine the level of a disability, the problem is readily apparent. The CPP criteria define “severe” as preventing an applicant from working regularly at any job and “prolonged” as long term or that which may result in death. However, the DTC program notes that “severe” is to be interpreted to mean markedly restricting any of the basic activities of daily living and that a disability must be “prolonged” over a period of at least 12 months. While daily living includes working regularly at any job it encompasses so much more. Under the CPP criteria the physician is responsible for determining how to define long term; six months or twelve months. Other programs, such as the Veterans benefits that have entirely different criteria, are added to this mixture.
This is confusing for physicians, patients and others involved in the application process. If the terms, criteria and the information about the programs are not as clear as possible then we have no doubt that faulty interpretation on the part of physicians when completing the forms can occur. This could then inadvertently disadvantage those who, in fact, qualify for benefits. There needs to be some consistency in definitions across the various government programs. This does not mean that eligibility criteria must be identical. However, there must be a way for a more standardized approach.
Inconsistency in the application and administration of the program is likely without a more standardized definition of the program. The reality is that certain individuals with conditions or disabilities may qualify for the CPP disability benefit in one region of the country, while in other regions, an individual with the same condition will be deemed ineligible.
There are a number of conditions that society would today view as a “disability,” yet may not fit under the current program. Severe and prolonged is a rigid standard, especially as it is applied to some medical conditions. The reality is that such a standard cannot be applied fairly in all situations. There needs to be greater flexibility and more realistic criteria that takes into account the special nature of some medical conditions that may not meet yesterday’s standards.
Canada’s physicians offer four specific actions for the Committee to consider:
1. That an emphasis be placed on reducing the administrative burden placed on health care providers under all federal health programs. The CPP program, both in terms of the consultative and administration process, should serve as the template for change. Unlike other federal health programs, the cost of having the eligibility form completed by a physician is subsumed under the program itself. The CMA believes this should be the case for all federal health programs.
2. The establishment of a joint governmental and stakeholder advisory group, similar to the recently announced DTC Advisory Committee, to monitor and appraise the performance of the CPP disability program to ensure it meets its stated purpose and objectives. Representation on this advisory group would include senior program officials; health care providers; various disability organizations; and patient advocacy groups.
3. That there be some consistency in definitions across the various government programs. This would not circumvent the purposes or mandates of the programs.
4. That a comprehensive information package be developed for health care providers and the public that provides a description of each program, its eligibility criteria, the full range of benefits available, copies of sample forms, physical assessment and form completion payment information, etc.
To conclude, the CMA believes that the CPP is a deserving benefit to those Canadians living with a disability. We again congratulate the Committee for the progress it has achieved on behalf of people with disabilities in regard to the recent initiatives announced in the federal budget. The CMA looks forward to working with all concerned to improve the CPP program and all other federal disability health programs.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to present this brief to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance regarding Bill C-462 Disability Tax Credit Promoters Restrictions Act.
The Canadian Medical Association represents 78,000 physicians in Canada; its mission is to serve and unite the physicians of Canada and to be the national advocate, in partnership with the people of Canada, for the highest standards of health and health care.
The CMA is pleased that the House of Commons has made Bill C-462 a priority. This bill is an important step toward addressing the unintended consequences that have emerged from the Disability Tax Credit since 2005.
Part 2: Issues to be addressed
In 2005, the Disability Tax Credit was expanded to allow individuals to back-file for up to 10 years. While this was a welcome tax measure for individuals with disabilities, the CMA has been urging the Canada Revenue Agency to address the numerous unintended consequences that have emerged. Central among these has been the emergence of a “cottage industry” of third-party companies engaged in a number of over-reaching tactics. The practices of these companies have included aggressive promotional activities to seek and encourage individuals to file the Disability Tax Credit. The primary driver behind these tactics is profit; some companies are charging fees of up to 40 per cent of an individual’s refund when the tax credit is approved.
Further to targeting a vulnerable population, these activities have yielded an increase in the quantity of Disability Tax Credit forms in physician offices and contributed to red tape in the health sector. In some cases, third parties have placed physicians in an adversarial position with their patients. We are pleased that this bill attempts to address the concerns we have raised.
The CMA supports Bill C-462 as a necessary measure to address the issues that have emerged since the changes to the Disability Tax Credit in 2005. However, to avoid additional unintended consequences, the CMA recommends that the Finance Committee address three issues prior to advancing Bill C-462.
First, as currently written, Bill C-462 proposes to apply the same requirements to physicians as to third-party companies if physicians apply a fee for form completion, a typical practice for uninsured physician services. Such fees are subject to guidelines and oversight by provincial and territorial medical regulatory colleges (see Appendix 1: CMA Policy on Third Party Forms: The Physician Role).
The CMA recommends that the Finance Committee:
Amend the definition of “promoters” under section 2 to exclude “a health care practitioner duly licensed under the applicable regulatory authority who provides health care and treatment.”
. If the committee imports the term “person” from the Income Tax Act, then the applicable section of Bill C-462 should be amended to specify that, for the purposes of the act, “Person does not include a health care practitioner duly licensed under the applicable regulatory authority who provides health care and treatment.”
Second, the CMA is concerned that one of the reasons individuals may be engaging the services of third-party companies is a lack of awareness of the purpose and benefits of the Disability Tax Credit. Additional efforts are required to ensure that the Disability Tax Credit form (Form T2201) be more informative and user-friendly for patients. Form T2201 should explain more clearly to patients the reason behind the tax credit, and explicitly indicate there is no need to use third-party companies to submit the claim to the CRA.
The CMA recommends that the Finance Committee:
. Recommend that the Canada Revenue Agency undertake additional efforts to ensure that the Disability Tax Credit form is more informative, accessible and user-friendly for patients.
Finally, the CMA recommends that a privacy assessment be undertaken before the bill moves forward in the legislative process. It appears that, as written, Bill C-462 would authorize the inter-departmental sharing of personal information. The CMA raises this issue for consideration because protecting the privacy of patient information is a key duty of a physician under the CMA Code of Ethics.
Part 3: Closing
The CMA encourages the Finance Committee to address these issues to ensure that Bill C-462 resolves existing problems with the Disability Tax Credit while not introducing new ones. The CMA appreciates the opportunity to provide input to the Finance Committee’s study of this bill and, with the amendments outlined herein, supports its passage.
Summary of Recommendations
The definition of “promoters” under section 2 of Bill C-462 should be amended to exclude “a health care practitioner duly licensed under the applicable regulatory authority who provides health care and treatment.”
If the Committee imports the definition of “persons” from the Income Tax Act, the applicable section of Bill C-462 should be amended to specify that, for the purposes of the act, “Person does not include a health care practitioner duly licensed under the applicable regulatory authority who provides health care and treatment.”
The Canada Revenue Agency should undertake additional efforts to ensure that the Disability Tax Credit form is informative, accessible and user-friendly.
Prior to advancing in the legislative process, Bill C-462 should undergo a privacy assessment.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to provide this submission in response to Health Canada's Notice of proposed order to amend the schedule to the Tobacco Act1, from October 14, 2014, on the restriction of the use of additives.
Canada's physicians have been working for decades toward the goal of a smoke-free Canada. The CMA issued its first public warning concerning the hazards of tobacco in 1954 and has continued to advocate for the strongest possible measures to control its use.
Flavoured tobacco products include candy or fruit flavoured products including cigarillos, water pipe tobacco, smokeless tobacco and blunt wraps. They come in flavours that are appealing to youth such as chocolate, mint, cherry, peach, or strawberry. Flavouring makes the tobacco products more palatable to youth and young adult smokers because they have a lower tolerance for irritation and an underdeveloped taste for tobacco smoke.2 Menthol is a long standing and common flavour used in cigarettes and is used to reduce the harshness of cigarette smoke. It is the most popular flavour among youth. Almost three out of 10 Canadian youth who smoked cigarettes in the last 30 days (29 per cent) reported smoking menthol cigarettes.3
Tobacco Use and Youth
While tobacco use has declined in Canada we must remain vigilant in our efforts to reduce smoking rates. Today 16 per cent of Canadians continue to smoke on a regular basis and physicians are particularly concerned about the smoking prevalence among young adults and youth with 20 per cent of those aged 20-24, and 11 per cent of youth aged 15-19 currently smoking on a regular basis. 4
Flavoured tobacco products, with their appeal to young Canadians are a major threat to the health and well-being of our youth. A recent report, Flavoured Tobacco Use: Evidence from Canadian Youth based on the 2012/13 Youth Smoking Survey, shows that young people are using flavoured tobacco products at high levels. Results show that 50 per cent of high school students in Canada who used tobacco products in the previous 30 days used flavoured tobacco products.5
Previous Amendments Regarding Flavouring Agents
The CMA supported efforts of the federal government in 2009 to limit the addition of flavouring agents to tobacco products through the 2010 Act to Amend the Tobacco Act. But the Act did not cover all tobacco products and it excluded menthol as a flavouring agent. Manufacturers have been able to modify the weight and packaging of their products to technically comply with the Act while they continue to market flavoured products.
It is the CMA's position that the federal government has an important role in smoking cessation and prevention among youth. The CMA supports the proposed extension of the prohibitions on the use of certain flavouring additives in relation to the manufacture and sale of little cigars to cigars weighing more than 1.4 g but less than 6 g.
The CMA remains very concerned that these amendments do not ban menthol flavouring in tobacco products. To that end, the CMA recommends that Health Canada extend its prohibition on flavouring additives to include a ban on the addition of menthol in all tobacco products.
1 Health Canada. Notice of proposed order to amend the schedule to the Tobacco Act. October 14, 2014. Accessed at: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hc-ps/consult/_2014/tobacco-act-loi-tabac/index-eng.php
2 Carpenter CM, Wayne GF, Pauly JL, Koh HK, Connolly GN. New cigarette brands with flavors that appeal to youth: Tobacco marketing strategies: Tobacco industry documents reveal a deliberate strategy to add flavors known to appeal to younger people. Health Affairs 2005;24(6):1601-1610.
3 Manske SR, Rynard VL, Minaker LM. 2014 (September). Flavoured Tobacco Use among Canadian Youth: Evidence from Canada's 2012/2013 Youth Smoking Survey. Waterloo: Propel Centre for Population Health Impact, 1-18. cstads.ca/reports.
4 Canadian Tobacco Use Monitoring Survey 2012 , accessed at http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hc-ps/tobac-tabac/research-recherche/stat/ctums-esutc_2012-eng.php.
5 Manske SR, Rynard VL, Minaker LM. 2014 (September). Flavoured Tobacco Use among Canadian Youth: Evidence from Canada's 2012/2013 Youth Smoking Survey. Waterloo: Propel Centre for Population Health Impact, 1-18. cstads.ca/reports.
Minaker L, Manske S, Rynard VL, Reid JL & Hammond D. Tobacco Use in Canada: Patterns and Trends, 2014 Edition - Special Supplement: Flavoured Tobacco Use. Waterloo, ON: Propel Centre for Population Health Impact, University of Waterloo.
Canadian Medical Association 2
November 10, 2014