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.
That the government create a one-time Health Care and Innovation Fund to resume health care services, bolster public health capacity and expand primary care teams, allowing Canadians wide-ranging access to health care.
That the government recognize and support the continued adoption of virtual care and address the inequitable access to digital health services by creating a Digi-Health Knowledge Bank and by expediting broadband access to all Canadians.
That the government act on our collective learned lessons regarding our approach to seniors care and create a national demographic top-up to the Canada Health Transfer and establish a Seniors Care Benefit.
That the government recognize the unique risks and financial burden experienced by physicians and front line health care workers by implementing the Frontline Gratitude Tax Deduction, by extending eligibility of the Memorial Grant and by addressing remaining administrative barriers to physician practices accessing critical federal economic relief programs.
Five months ago COVID-19 hit our shores. We were unprepared and unprotected. We were fallible and vulnerable. But, we responded swiftly.
The federal government initiated Canadians into a new routine rooted in public health guidance.
It struggled to outfit the front line workers. It anchored quick measures to ensure some financial stability.
Canadians tuned in to daily updates on the health crisis and the battle against its wrath.
Together, we flattened the curve… For now.
We have experienced the impact of the first wave of the pandemic. The initial wake has left Canadians, and those who care for them, feeling the insecurities in our health care system.
While the economy is opening in varied phases – an exhaustive list including patios, stores, office spaces, and schools – the health care system that struggled to care for those most impacted by the pandemic remains feeble, susceptible not only to the insurgence of the virus, but ill-prepared to equally defend the daily health needs of our citizens.
The window to maintain momentum and to accelerate solutions to existing systemic ailments that have challenged us for years is short. We cannot allow it to pass. The urgency is written on the faces of tomorrow’s patients.
Before the onset of the pandemic, the government announced intentions to ensure all Canadians would be able to access a primary care family doctor. We knew then that the health care system was failing.
The pandemic has highlighted the criticality of these recommendations brought forward by the Canadian Medical Association. They bolster our collective efforts to ensure that Canadians get timely access to the care and services they need. Too many patients are succumbing to the gaps in our abilities to care for them. Patients have signaled their thirst for a model of virtual care. The magnitude of our failure to meet the needs of our aging population is now blindingly obvious. Many of the front line health care workers, the very individuals who put themselves and their families at risk to care for the nation, are being stretched to the breaking point to compensate for a crumbling system.
The health of the country’s economy cannot exist without the health of Canadians.
Long wait times have strangled our nation’s health care system for too long. It was chronic before COVID-19. Now, for far too many, it has turned tragic.
At the beginning of the pandemic, a significant proportion of health care services came to a halt. As health services are resuming, health care systems are left to grapple with a significant spike in wait times. Facilities will need to adopt new guidance to adhere to physical distancing, increasing staff levels, and planning and executing infrastructure changes. Canada’s already financially atrophied health systems will face significant funding challenges at a time when provincial/territorial governments are concerned with resuscitating economies.
The CMA is strongly supportive of new federal funding to ensure Canada’s health systems are resourced to meet the care needs of Canadians as the pandemic and life continues. We need to invigorate our health care system’s fitness to ensure that all Canadians are confident that it can and will serve them.
Creating a new Health Care and Innovation Fund would focus on resuming the health care system, addressing the backlog, and bringing primary care, the backbone of our health care system, back to centre stage.
The CMA will provide the budget costing in follow-up as an addendum to this submission.
RECOMMENDATION 1 Creating a one-time Health Care and Innovation Fund
It took a global pandemic to accelerate a digital economy and spark a digital health revolution in Canada. In our efforts to seek medical advice while in isolation, Canadians prompted a punctuated shift in how we can access care, regardless of our location or socio-economic situation. We redefined the need for virtual care.
During the pandemic, nearly half of Canadians have used virtual care. An incredible 91% were satisfied with their experience. The CMA has learned that 43% of Canadians would prefer that their first point of medical contact be virtual.
The CMA welcomes the $240 million federal investment in virtual care and encourages the government to ensure it is linked to a model that ensures equitable access.
A gaping deficit remains in using virtual care. 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 digital opportunities to improve health care delivery, including what regulatory changes are required across provincial/territorial boundaries. To take full advantage of digital health capabilities, it will be essential for the entire population, to have a functional level of digital health literacy and access to the internet.
The continued adoption of virtual care is reliant on our ability to educate patients on how to access it. It will be further contingent on consistent and equitable access to broadband internet service.
Create a Digi-Health Knowledge Bank
Virtual care can’t just happen. It requires knowledge on how to access and effectively deliver it, from patients and health care providers respectively. It is crucial to understand and promote digital health literacy across Canada. What the federal government has done for financial literacy, with the appointment of the Financial Literacy Leader within the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada, can serve as a template for digital health literacy.
We recommend that the federal government establish a Digi-Health Knowledge Bank to develop indicators and measure the digital health of Canadians, create tools patients and health care providers can use to enhance digital health literacy, continually monitor the changing digital divide that exists among some population segments.
Pan-Canadian broadband expansion
It is critical to bridge the broadband divide by ensuring all those in Canada have equitable access to affordable, reliable and sustainable internet connectivity. Those in rural, remote, Northern and Indigenous communities are presently seriously disadvantaged in this way. With the rise in virtual care, a lack of access to broadband exacerbates inequalities in access to care. This issue needs to be expedited before we can have pride in any other achievement.
RECOMMENDATION 2 Embedding virtual care in our nation’s health care system
Some groups have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 crisis. Woefully inadequate care of seniors and residents of long-term care homes has left a shameful and intensely painful mark on our record. Our health care system has failed to meet the needs of our aging population for too long.
The following two recommendations, combined with a focus on improving access to health care services, will make a critical difference for Canadian seniors.
A demographic top-up to the Canada Health Transfer
The Canada Health Transfer (CHT) is the single largest federal transfer to the provinces and territories. It is critical in supporting provincial and territorial health programs in Canada. As an equal per-capita-based transfer, it does not currently address the imbalance in population segments like seniors.
The CMA, hand-in-hand with the Organizations for Health Action (HEAL), recommends that a demographic top-up be transferred to provinces and territories based on the projected increase in health care spending associated with an aging population, with the federal contribution set to the current share of the CHT as a percentage of provincial-territorial health spending. A top-up has been calculated at 1.7 billion for 2021. Additional funding would be worth a total of $21.1 billion to the provinces and territories over the next decade.
Seniors care benefit
Rising out-of-pocket expenses associated with seniors care could extend from 9 billion to 23 billion by 2035. A Seniors Care Benefits program would directly support seniors and those who care for them. Like the Child Care Benefit program, it would offset the high out-of-pocket health costs that burden caregivers and patients.
RECOMMENDATION 3 Ensuring that better care is secured for our seniors
The federal government has made great strides to mitigate the health and economic impacts of COVID-19. Amidst the task of providing stability, there has been a grand oversight: measures to support our front line health care workers and their financial burden have fallen short.
The CMA recommends the following measures:
1. Despite the significant contribution of physicians’ offices to Canada’s GDP, many physician practices have not been eligible for critical economic programs. The CMA welcomes the remedies implemented by Bill C-20 and recommends the federal government address remaining administrative barriers to physicians accessing federal economic relief program.
2. We recommend that the government implement the Frontline Gratitude Tax Deduction, an income tax deduction for frontline health care workers put at risk during the COVID-19 pandemic. In person patient care providers would be eligible to deduct a predetermined amount against income earned during the pandemic. The Canadian Armed Forces already employs this model for its members serving in hazardous missions.
3. It is a devastating reality that front line health care workers have died as a result of COVID-19. Extending eligibility for the Memorial Grant to families of front line health care workers who mourn the loss of a family member because of COVID-19, as a direct result of responding to the pandemic or as a result of an occupational illness or psychological impairment related to their work will relieve any unnecessary additional hardship experienced. The same grant should extend to cases in which their work contributes to the death of a family member.
RECOMMENDATION 4 Cementing financial stabilization measures for our front line health care workers
Those impacted by COVID-19 deserve our care. The health of our nation’s economy is contingent on the health standards for its people. We must assert the right to decent quality of life for those who are most vulnerable: those whose incomes have been dramatically impacted by the pandemic, those living in poverty, those living in marginalized communities, and those doubly plagued by experiencing racism and the pandemic. We are not speaking solely for physicians. This is about equitable care for every Canadian impacted by the pandemic.
Public awareness and support have never been stronger. We are not facing the end of the pandemic; we are confronting an ebb in our journey. Hope and optimism will remain elusive until we can be confident in our health care system.
The CMA appreciates the opportunity to appear before this committee as part of your review of the 10-Year Plan to Strengthen Health Care. An understanding of what has worked and what hasn't since 2004 is critical to ensuring the next accord brings about necessary change to the system.
Overview of 2004 Accord
On the positive side of the ledger, the 2004 accord provided the health care system with stable, predictable funding for a decade - something that had been sorely lacking. It also showed that a focused commitment, in this case on wait times, can lead to improvements.
However, little has been done on several other important commitments in the Accord, such as the pledge that was also made in 2003 to address the significant inequity among Canadians in accessing prescription drugs.
Along with the lack of long-term, community and home-based care services, this accounts for a major gap in patient access along the continuum of care.
We also know that accountability provisions in past accords have been lacking in several ways. For instance, there has been little progress in developing common performance indicators set out in previous accord. i The 2004 accord has no clear terms of reference on accountability for overseeing its provisions.
Vision and principles for 2014
What the 2004 accord lacked was a clear vision. Without a destination, and a commitment to getting there, our health care system cannot be transformed and will never become a truly integrated, high performing health system.
The 2014 Accord is the perfect opportunity to begin this journey, if it is set up in a way that fosters the innovation and improvements that are necessary. By clearly defining the objectives and securing stable, incremental funding, we will know what changes we need to get us there.
Now is the time to articulate the vision- to say loudly and clearly that at the end of the 10-year funding arrangement, by 2025, Canadians will have the best health and health care in the world. With a clear commitment from providers, administrators and governments, this vision can become our destination.
As a first step to begin this long and difficult journey, the CMA has partnered with the Canadian Nurses Association, and together we have solicited support from over 60 health care organizations for a series of "Principles to Guide Health Care Transformation in Canada."
These principles define a system that would provide equitable access to health care based on clinical need; care that is high quality and patient-centred; and that focuses on empowering patients to attain and maintain wellness.
They call for a system that provides accountability to those who use it and those who fund it; and that is sustainable - by which I mean adequately resourced in terms of financing, infrastructure and human resources, and measured against other high-performing systems, with cost linked to outcomes.
Based on our experience working within the provisions of the 2004 accord, we would like to suggest three strategies to ensure the next accord leads to a sustainable, high-performing health care system.
They are: a focus on quality; support for system innovation; and the establishment of an accountability framework and I will touch briefly on each one.
Focus on quality
First, the crucial need to focus on improving the quality of health care services. The key dimensions of quality, and by extension, the areas that need attention are: safety, effectiveness, patient-centredness, efficiency, timeliness, equitability and appropriateness.
Excellence in quality improvement in these areas will be a crucial step towards sustainability.
To date, six provinces have instituted health quality councils. Their mandates and their effectiveness in actually achieving lasting system-wide improvements vary. What is missing and urgently needed is an integrated, pan-Canadian approach to quality improvement in health care that can begin to chart a course to ensure Canadians ultimately have the best health and health care in the world.
Canadians deserve no less and, with the resources at our disposal, there is no reason why this should not be achievable.
The CMA recommends that the federal government fund the establishment and resource the operations of an arms-length Canadian Health Quality Council, with the mandate to be a catalyst for change, a spark for innovation and a facilitator to disseminate evidence-based quality improvement initiatives so that they become embedded in the fabric of our health systems from coast to coast to coast.
To help expand quality improvement across the country, the Institute for Healthcare Improvement's Triple Aim provides the solid framework. Our health care systems will benefit inordinately from a simultaneous focus on providing better care to individuals and better health to populations, while reducing the per-capita cost. There is ample evidence that quality care is cost effective care. This approach, when adopted and applied as the pan-Canadian framework for any and all structural changes and quality improvement initiatives, will not only serve patients well, but will also enhance the experience of health care providers on the front lines.
The second strategy revolves around system innovation. Innovation and quality improvement initiatives are infinitely more likely to be successful and sustained if they arise out of a commitment by frontline providers and administrators to the achievement of a common goal. We need to shift away from compliance models with negative consequences that have little evidence to support their sustainability.
Innovative improvements in health care in Canada are inadequately supported, poorly recognized, and constrained from being shared and put into use more widely. This needs to change. The 2014 accord, with a focus on improving Canadians' health and health care, can facilitate the transformation we all seek.
Building on the success of the 2004 Wait Times Reduction Fund and the 2000 Health Accord Primary Health Care Transition Fund, the CMA proposes the creation of a Canada Health Innovation Fund that would broadly support the uptake of health system innovation initiatives across the country.
A Working Accountability Framework
And, third, there needs to be a working accountability framework. This would work three ways.
To provide accountability to patients - the system will be patient-centred and, along with its providers, will be accountable for the quality of care and the care experience.
To provide accountability to citizens - the system will provide and, along with its administrators and managers, will be accountable for delivering high quality, integrated services across the full continuum of care.
And to provide accountability to taxpayers - the system will optimize its per-capita costs, and along with those providing public funding and financing, will be accountable for the value derived from the money being spent.
We have done all of this because of our profound belief that meaningful change to our health care system is of the essence, and that such change can and must come about through the next health accord.
Therefore I thank this committee for your efforts on this important area. I would be happy to answer your questions.
Issues identified in 2004 Accord and Current Status
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Annual 6% escalator in the CHT to March 31, 2014
Has provided health care system with stable, predictable funding for a decade.
Adoption of wait-time benchmarks by December 2005 for five procedural areas
Largely fulfilled. However, no benchmarks were set for diagnostic imaging. The Wait Time Alliance is calling for benchmarks for all specialty care.
Release of health human resource (HHR) action plans by December 2005
Partially fulfilled. Most jurisdictions issued rudimentary HHR plans by the end of 2005; F/P/T Advisory Committee on Health Delivery and Human Resources issued a paper on a pan-Canadian planning HHR framework in September 2005.
First-dollar coverage for home care by 2006
Most provinces offer first-dollar coverage for post-acute home care but service varies across the country for mental health and palliative home care needs.
An objective of 50% of Canadians having 24/7 access to multidisciplinary primary care teams by 2011
Unfulfilled: Health Council of Canada reported in 2009 that only 32 per cent of Canadians had access to more than one primary health care provider.
A 5-year $150 million Territorial Health Access Fund
Fulfilled: Territorial Health System Sustainability Initiative (THSSI) funding extended until March 31, 2014.
A 9-point National Pharmaceuticals Strategy (NPS)
Largely unfulfilled: A progress report on the NPS was released in 2006 but nothing has been implemented.
Accelerated work on a pan-Canadian Public Health Strategy including goals and targets
F/P/T health ministers (except Quebec) put forward five high-level health goals for Canada in 2005, although they were not accompanied by operational definitions that would lend themselves to setting targets.
Continued federal investments in health innovation
Unknown-no specificity in the 2004 Accord.
Reporting to residents on health system performance and elements of the Accord
P/T governments ceased their public reporting after 2004, and only the federal government has kept its commitment (at least to 2008).
Formalization of the dispute advance/resolution mechanism on the CHA
Done but not yet tested.
i P/T governments ceased their public reporting after 2004, and only the federal government has kept its commitment (at least to 2008).Government of Canada. Healthy Canadians: a federal report on comparable health indicators 2008. http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hcs-sss/alt_formats/hpb-dgps/pdf/pubs/system-regime/2008-fed-comp-indicat/index-eng.pdf. Accessed 06/21/11.
It has been over three years since the Social Union Framework Agreement (SUFA) was signed by the federal and provincial/territorial governments, with the exception of Quebec. At the time, it was heralded as an important breakthrough in federal-provincial relations that would clear the way for greater intergovernmental cooperation on pressing social policy issues such as health care renewal.
Functional federalism is essential to achieving social policy objectives that will be of benefit to Canadians from coast to coast. While SUFA may not be perfect, it is better than the alternative of federal-provincial paralysis and dysfunction. And as SUFA acknowledges, Canada’s social union is about more that how governments relate to each other: it is about how governments can and should work with external stakeholders and individual Canadians to improve the social policies and programs.
The health sector is an important test case for SUFA. It is the most cherished of Canada’s social programs. Canadians want and expect their governments to work together to improve the health care system and ensure its future sustainability. Ironically, it is also the area where government intergovernmental discord has been the greatest. On the eve of the final report of the Commission on the Future of Health Care in Canada, it is timely to reflect on SUFA and its role in the renewal of Canada’s health system.
SUFA and the Health Sector – Strengths and Weaknesses
The attached table provides a summary of the key elements of SUFA and the CMA’s assessment of how well SUFA provisions have been applied in the health sector.
On the positive side, the health sector has fared relatively well in the area of mobility within Canada. Physicians and other regulated health care providers generally enjoy a high degree of mobility. Portability of hospital and medical benefits is largely ensured through interprovincial eligibility and portability agreements. There are, however, two areas of concern. First, there is the longstanding failure to resolve the non-portability of medical benefits for Quebec residents. Second, there is growing disparity in coverage for services that are currently not subject to national standards under the Canada Health Act, particularly prescription drugs and home care.
In the area of dispute avoidance and resolution, governments have agreed to a formal process to address concerns with the Canada Health Act. This is a positive step, though few details have been made public. The real test will be whether this new process accelerates the resolution of non-compliance issues (most of which, as the Auditor-General recently pointed out, have remained unresolved for five years or longer), and whether the federal government will have the political will to levy discretionary penalties for non-compliance.
There has also been progress on public accountability and transparency as governments have begun reporting results in 14 health indicator areas pursuant to the September 2000 health accord. The CMA is disappointed, however, that governments did not fulfil their pledge to involve stakeholders at all levels in the development of these indicators. Moreover, governments have short-changed Canadians by not providing them with a national roll-up of indicators that would facilitate comparisons across jurisdictions. Looking to the future, it will be critical to put in place a process that moves from benchmarks (indicators) to the bedside (best practices, better outcomes). This must be done in collaboration with health care researchers, providers and health managers—those individuals who understand the importance of taking research and importing it into practice. Clinical researchers across the country are doing this work and must to be supported.
Overshadowing these relative successes in the first three years of the Social Union Framework Agreement are three key challenges that must be addressed:
* inadequate institutional mechanisms to improve accountability across the system
* failure to reduce uncertainty about what the health system will deliver, now and into the future
* resistance on the part of governments to engage stakeholders in a true partnership for health system renewal
The CMA is concerned that if these fundamental weaknesses are not addressed, they will undermine future attempts to renew Canada’s health system.
With the adoption of SUFA, governments have significantly increased emphasis on performance measurement and public reporting. While this is a positive development, it also has the potential to lead towards information overload and paralysis, unless two critical elements are addressed. First, there is a need for a clear accountability framework that sets out the roles, rights and responsibilities of all key players in Canada’s health system: patients, health care providers and governments. This, in turn, requires the creation of a credible arm’s length institution to monitor compliance with this framework and rise above the fray to give Canadians the straight goods on health care. One has to look no further that the recent rekindling of the so-called “shares debate” between the federal and provincial governments as an example of why these changes are necessary.
Over the past decade, Canada’s health system has been plagued by an escalating crisis of uncertainty. Patients have faced increasing uncertainty about the accessibility and timeliness of essential health care services. Health care providers have seen working conditions deteriorate. Employers and private insurers have seen their contribution to funding health services increase unpredictably as governments have scaled back their funding commitments. Furthermore, provincial and territorial governments have had to contend with an unstable federal funding partner.
Canadians deserve better. They need more certainty that their public health system will care for them when they need it most. They need more transparency from governments about “what’s in” and “what’s out” in terms of public or private coverage. They need their governments to act on their SUFA undertaking to make service commitments for social programs publicly available such as establishing standards for acceptable waiting times for health care. And they need governments to follow through with their SUFA commitment to ensure stable and adequate funding for the health system and other social programs.
Fostering real partnerships
In the health care field, deliberations and agreements have taken place behind closed doors and governments have discounted the role that non-governmental organizations and citizens should play in decision-making. It is these very providers and patients who are expected to implement and live with the results of such cloistered decision-making. The consequences of this systematic exclusion are all too evident in the current critical and growing shortages of physicians, nurses and other health professionals. If we are to achieve the vision of a sustainable Medicare program, it is critical that governments come clean on their SUFA commitment to work in partnership with stakeholders and ensure opportunities for meaningful input into social policies and programs.
CMA’s Prescription for Sustainability – Building on SUFA
The Social Union Framework Agreement has created the necessary, but not sufficient, conditions for health system renewal. It has codified the emerging consensus on federal-provincial relations and has clarified the "rules of the game". However, it is an enabling framework that is of limited value in the health sector unless it is given life through institutional mechanisms that establish enduring partnerships not just between governments, but between governments health care providers, and patients.
In its final submission to the Commission on the Future of Health Care in Canada entitled “Prescription for Sustainability”, the CMA proposes the implementation of three integrated “pillars of sustainability” that together would improve accountability and transparency in the system: a Canadian Health Charter, a Canadian Health Commission, and federal legislative renewal.
Canadian Health Charter
A Canadian Health Charter would clearly articulate a national health policy that sets out our collective understanding of Medicare and the rights and mutual obligations of individual Canadians, health care providers, and governments. It would also underline governments’ shared commitment to ensuring that Canadians will have access to quality health care within an acceptable time frame. The existence of such a Charter would ensure that a rational, evidence-based, and collaborative approach to managing and modernizing Canada’s health system is being followed.
Canadian Health Commission
In conjunction with the Canadian Health Charter, a permanent, independent Canadian Health Commission would be created to promote accountability and transparency within the system. It would have a mandate to monitor compliance with and measure progress towards Charter provisions, report to Canadians on the performance of the health care system, and provide ongoing advice and guidance to the Conference on Federal-Provincial-Territorial ministers on key national health care issues. Recognizing the shared federal and provincial/territorial obligations to the health care system, one of the main purposes of the Canadian Health Charter is to reinforce the national character of the health system.
Federal legislative renewal
Finally, the CMA’s prescription calls for the federal government to make significant commitments in three areas: 1) a review of the Canada Health Act, 2) changes to the federal transfers to provinces and territories to provide increased and more targeted support for health care, and 3) a review of federal tax legislation to realign tax instruments with health policy goals.
While these three “pillars” will address the broader structural and procedural problems facing Canada’s health care system, there is many other changes required to meet specific needs within the system in the short to medium term. The CMA’s Prescription for Sustainability provides specific recommendations in the following key areas:
* Defining the publicly-funded health system (e.g. a more rational and transparent approach to defining core services, a “safety valve” if the public system fails to deliver, and increased attention to public health and Aboriginal health)
* Investing in the health care system (e.g. human resources, capital infrastructure, surge capacity to deal with emergencies, information technology, and research and innovation)
* Organization and delivery of services (e.g. consideration of the full continuum of care, physician compensation, rural health, and the role of the private sector, the voluntary sector and informal caregivers)
On balance, the Social Union Framework Agreement has been a positive step forward for social policy in Canada, though its potential is far from being fully realized.
The CMA’s proposal for a Canadian Health Charter, a Canadian Health Commission and federal legislative review entail significant changes to the governance of Canada’s health system. These changes would be consistent with the Social Union Framework Agreement and would help “turn the corner” from debate to action on health system renewal.
The early, ongoing and meaningful engagement of health care providers is the sine qua non of securing the long-term sustainability of Canada’s health system. Canada’s health professionals, who have the most to contribute, and next to patients – who have the most at stake – must be at the table when the future of health and health care is being discussed.
The CMA’s Assessment of the Social Union Framework Agreement ANNEX
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1. All Canadians to be treated with fairness and equity
2. Promote equality of opportunity for all Canadians
3. Respect for the equality, rights and dignity of all Canadian women and men and their diverse needs
4. Ensure access for all Canadians to essential social programs and services of reasonably comparable quality
5. Provide appropriate assistance to those in need
6. Respect the principles of Medicare: comprehensiveness, universality, portability, public administration and accessibility
7. Promote the full and active participation of all Canadians in Canada’s economic and social life
8. Work in partnership with stakeholders and ensure opportunities for meaningful input into social policies and programs
9. Ensure adequate, affordable, stable and sustainable funding for social programs
10. Respect Aboriginal treaties and rights
[#4] Progress towards the objective of ensuring access to essential health services of reasonably comparable quality is difficult to assess. First, there is no agreed-upon definition of essential health services. Second there the development of indicators and benchmarks of health care quality is still in its infancy. However, the CMA is very concerned that the system is not headed in the right direction, with growing shortages of physicians, nurses and other health care providers. According to Statistics Canada’s recently released survey on access to health care services, an estimated 4.3 million Canadians reported difficulties accessing first contact services and approximately 1.4 million Canadians reported difficulties accessing specialized services.
[#6]Although there is broad support for the five principles of Medicare, there continue to be a number of longstanding violations of Canada Health Act that are not being addressed, including the portability of medical benefits for Quebec residents. The emergence of privately-owned clinics that charge patients for medically-necessary MRI scans is also cause for concern.
[#8] There is no formal, ongoing mechanism for input from stakeholders and the individual Canadians in debates about national health policy issues. (See also #17 below).
[#9] Ensuring adequate, affordable, and stable funding for Canada’s health system is essential to its long-term sustainability. During the 1990s, billions of dollars were siphoned out of the system to eliminate government deficits. To put Medicare back on a sustainable path, governments must make long-term funding commitments to meet the health care needs of Canadians. The CMA has recommended that the federal government should significantly increase its financial contribution to restore the federal-provincial partnership in health care, and increase accountability and transparency through a new earmarked health transfer.
Mobility within Canada
11. Removal of residency-based policies governing access to social services
12. Compliance with the mobility provisions of the Agreement on Internal Trade
[#11] Residency-based policies are generally not an issue for physician and hospital services, where inter-provincial portability is guaranteed through reciprocal billing arrangements. As noted above, however, the portability of medical benefits for many Quebec residents is limited because the province only reimburses out-of-province services at home-province (as opposed to host-province) rates.
[#12] Regulatory authorities initiated work towards meeting the obligations of the Labour Mobility Chapter of the Agreement on Internal Trade in fall 1999. A Mutual Recognition Agreement has been developed and endorsed by all physician licensing authorities.
Public accountability & transparency
13. Performance measurement and public reporting
14. Development of comparable indicators to measure progress
15. Public recognition of roles and contributions of governments
16. Use funds transferred from another order of government for purposes agreed and pass on increases to residents
17. Ensure effective mechanisms for Canadians to participate in developing social priorities and reviewing outcomes
18. Make eligibility criteria and service commitments for social programs publicly available
19. Have mechanisms in place to appeal unfair administrative practices
20. Report publicly on appeals and complaints
[#13-14] Pursuant to the September 2000 Health Accord, the federal government and provinces have developed common health indicators in 14 areas and have released a first slate of reports. However, the usefulness of these reports is hampered by missing data elements on quality of care (access and waiting times in particular) and the absence of a national roll-up to facilitate inter-provincial comparisons.
[#15] Continuing federal-provincial bickering about shares of health funding makes it clear that this provision is not being met.
[#16] The CMA’s analysis of the Medical Equipment Fund found that incremental spending by provinces on medical technology accounted for only 60% of the $500 million transferred by the federal government for this purpose.
[#17] There is no mechanism in place to ensure ongoing input from Canadians and health care providers in national health policy development. The CMA has recommended the creation of a Canadian Health Commission, with representation from the public and stakeholders to provide advice and input to governments on key national health policy issues.
[#18] Although there have been proposals to this effect in a couple of provinces, governments currently do not make explicit commitments about the quality and accessibility of health services. In order to reduce the uncertainty Canadians are feeling with respect to Medicare, the CMA has recommended the creation of a Canadian Health Charter that would set out the rights and responsibilities of patients, health care providers and governments. In particular, the health charter would require all governments to set out care guarantees for timely access to health services based on the best available evidence.
[#19-20] The Auditor-General recently reported that Health Canada provides inadequate reporting on the extent of compliance with the Canada Health Act.
Governments working in partnership
21. Governments to undertake joint planning and information sharing, and work together to identify priorities for collaborative action
22. Governments to collaborate on implementation of joint priorities when this would result in more effective and efficient service to Canadians.
23. Advance notice prior to implementation of a major policy or program change that will substantially affect another government
24. Offer to consult prior to implementing new social policies and programs that are likely to substantially affect other governments.
25. For any new Canada-wide social initiative, arrangements made with one province/territory will be made available to all provinces/territories.
26. Governments will work with the Aboriginal peoples of Canada to find practical solutions to address their pressing needs
The requirement for governments to work together collaboratively is perhaps the most important part of SUFA, yet there it is impossible for organizations and individuals outside of government to assess the degree to which these provisions have been met. This so-called “black box of executive federalism” is not serving Canadians well. In the health sector, there are too many examples of governments developing policy and making decisions with little or no input from those who will ultimately have to implement change.
To achieve a true social union, the tenets of good collaborative working relationships – joint planning, advance notice and consultation prior to implementation – must be extended beyond the ambit of federal-provincial decision-making. The CMA’s proposal for a Canadian Health Commission would go some distance in addressing these concerns. A key part of its mandate would be to bring the perspective of health providers and patients into national health policy deliberations and decision-making.
Federal spending power
27. Federal government to consult with P/T governments at least one year prior to renewal or significant funding changes in social transfers
28. New Canada-wide initiatives supported by transfers to provinces subject to:
a) collaborative approach to identify Canada wide objectives and priorities
b) Agreement of a majority of provincial governments
c) Provincial discretion to determine detailed design to meet agreed objectives
d) Provincial freedom to reinvest funding in related area if objectives are already met
e) Jointly developed accountability framework
29. For new Canada-wide initiatives funded through direct transfers to individuals or organizations, federal government to provide 3-months notice and offer to consult
There have been three new Canada-wide health initiatives supported by the federal spending power: the $500M Medical Equipment Fund, the $800 Primary Health Care Transition Fund and the $500M fund for health information technology.
The Medical Equipment Fund was created to respond to a genuine need for more modern diagnostic and treatment equipment. However, objectives were vague, money was transferred with no strings attached, and there was no accountability framework. The result, as the CMA’s analysis has shown, is that a significant portion of the funding did not reach its destination.
The jury is still out in the case of the Primary Care Transition Fund. Delivery of this program through normal government machinery will entail a higher degree of accountability than in the case of the Medical Equipment Fund. However, objectives of this initiative may be too broad to have a significant steering effect on the system as a whole.
Canada Infoway Inc. is an arm’s length body created by the federal government to disburse the $500M in health information technology funding. While this model has the advantage of being less politicized than government-run programs; accountability to Parliament and to Canadians is weaker.
Dispute avoidance & resolution
30. Governments committed to working together and avoiding disputes
31. Sector negotiations to resolve disputes based on joint fact-finding, including the use of a third party
32. Any government can require a decision to be reviewed one year after it enters into effect
33. Governments will report publicly on an annual basis on the nature of intergovernmental disputes and their resolution
Federal and provincial governments have agreed to a formal dispute avoidance and resolution process under the Canada Health Act. The Canadian Health Commission recommended by the CMA could play a useful role as an independent fact-finder.
Review of SUFA
34. By the end of the 3rd year, governments will jointly undertake a full review of the Agreement and its implementation. This review will ensure significant opportunities for input and feedback from Canadians and all interested parties, including social policy experts, the private sector and voluntary organizations.
[#34] Governments have taken a minimalist approach to the SUFA review by opting for an internet-based consultation and closed meetings with invited external representatives.
This approach is not sufficient. Future reviews should be more inclusive of all stakeholders.