On behalf of the CMA, I thank you very much for the opportunity to be here today and commend the Subcommittee for focusing on the critical issue of child health.
My presentation today will focus on three areas:
1. What the CMA has done and plans to do in the area of children's health;
2. Why the CMA has chosen to focus on the early years as a priority; and
3. What the CMA recommends to the Subcommittee and government for action in the area of children's health.
The CMA's Role & Next Steps
Physicians see the adverse effects of poor child health all too often and we strongly believe that all children should have access to the best possible start in life. That healthy start includes opportunities to grow and develop in a safe and supportive environment with access to health services as needed.
The CMA is proud to have been a partner in the Child Health Initiative (CHI), an alliance between the CMA and the Canadian Paediatric Society (CPS) and the College of Family Physicians of Canada (CFPC) that has pressed for improvements in child health and the development of Child Health Goals.
The CHI held the Child and Youth Health Summit last year where it developed a child health charter based on three principles:
* a safe and secure environment;
* good health and development; and
* a full range of health resources available to all.
The Charter states that all children should have things such as clean water, air and soil; protection from injury and exploitation; and prenatal and maternal care for the best possible health at birth. Further, the charter recognizes the need for proper nutrition for proper growth and long term health; early learning opportunities and high-quality care, at home and in the community; and a basic health care including immunization, drugs, mental and dental health.
Delegates at the Summit also endorsed the Child Health Declaration and the Child and Youth Health Challenge, a call to action to make the charter a reality.
Going forward, the CMA will invest considerable time and effort to develop policy targeting children from birth to five years of age.
To that end the CMA will host the Child Health Expert Consultation and Strategy Session on June 5-6, 2008. The purpose of this consultation is to create a discussion paper to:
* First, identify how CMA can help physicians improve the health of children under five; and second,
* Identify the key determinants of early child health and identify goals and recommend ways to achieve optimal health outcomes for children under five.
This paper will inform a Roundtable Discussion of Child Health Experts in Fall 2008 where we hope to produce a final report on the Key Determinants of Children's Health for the Early Years.
We then hope to be invited to come before this Subcommittee once again to present this report and discuss our conclusions and recommendations.
Why the Early Years
The CMA is focusing on the period from birth to five years old because it is a critical time for children and when the physicians of Canada are perhaps in the best position to make a difference.
Recent human development research suggests that the period from conception to age six has the most important influence of any time in the life cycle on brain development. As well, we are all well aware that Canada could be and should be performing better in comparison to other OECD nations in a number of key areas such as infant mortality, injury and child poverty.
We also know that:
* Early screening for hereditary or congenital disease must take place between the ages of zero and five in order to provide effective intervention; and
* Brain and biological pathways in the prenatal period and in the early years affect physical and mental health in adult life.
Physicians are well positioned to identify and optimize certain conditions for healthy growth and development. Physicians can identify and prescribe effective interventions following many adverse childhood experiences in order to improve health outcomes for children and as they grow into adults.
The CMA believes that there are a number of actions government could be taking today in the area of children's health.
First, Canada should not be at the bottom of the list of developed countries when it comes to spending, as a percentage of GDP, on early childhood programs and development. Investing in early development is essential for an optimal start to life and a physically, mentally and socially healthy childhood.
Second, we need to improve our surveillance capability to better monitor changes in children's health because we can't manage what we can't measure. That is why the CMA recommends the creation of an annual report card on child health in Canada.
Third, nearly one child in six lives in poverty in Canada. This can impact a child's growth and development, his or her physical and mental health and ultimately the ability to succeed as teenagers and adults. Governments can and must do more.
Finally, there are a number of recommendations within the recently released Leitch Report in areas such as injury prevention, environment vulnerabilities, nutrition, aboriginal and mental health. The CMA strongly supports these recommendations and urges this Subcommittee to consider them.
However, if there are two recommendations within the Leitch Report that the CMA believes government could and must act upon immediately, they would be the creation of a National Office of Child Health and a Pan-Canadian Child Health Strategy.
In conclusion, the CMA strongly supports the Subcommittee's work and its focus on child health.
Again, we hope to return to see you again this fall with specific recommendations to address child health determinants, especially those affecting children from birth to age five.
Canada can and should be among the leading nations on earth in terms of children's health status. Our children deserve no less.
Thank you Madam Chair and Committee members for the opportunity to speak to you today. I am Briane Scharfstein, Associate Secretary General at the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) and a family physician by training. I am speaking on behalf of the CMA and our 67,000 physician members across the country.
We commend the Senate for striking this Committee. We are concerned that the aging population has not received sufficient national policy attention. With regard to today's discussion I would note that the CMA has advocated for the elimination of mandatory retirement and we are pleased to see that in general, provincial jurisdictions have eliminated mandatory retirement based on what has become an arbitrary age cutoff. With some obvious exceptions, such as athletics, competence is not related to age per se for most areas of human endeavour. Where human activity may pose risk to the safety of others we believe that the best approach is to develop evidence-based tools and procedures that can be used to assess competence on an ongoing basis.
While physicians play a significant role on a variety of fronts related to aging, I am going to focus my remarks on two specific areas:
* Ensuring the competence of physicians; and
* Fitness to operate motor vehicles and the role of physicians.
Turning first to the competence of the medical workforce, physicians are making diagnoses and performing procedures on a daily basis, both of which may entail a significant amount of risk for our patients. I would add that this is being done in an era where medical knowledge is rapidly increasing.
As a profession that continues to enjoy a high degree of delegated self-regulation, we recognize the importance of ensuring that physicians are and remain competent across the medical career lifecycle. This entails both an individual and collective obligation to:
* engage in lifelong learning;
* recognize and report issues of competence in one's self and one's peers; and
* participate in peer review processes to assure ongoing competence.
First and foremost, physicians have an individual ethical and professional obligation to maintain their competence throughout their career lifecycle. The CMA Code of Ethics calls on physicians to:
* practise the art and science of medicine competently, with integrity and without impairment;
* engage in lifelong learning to maintain and improve professional knowledge skills and attitudes;
* report to the appropriate authority any unprofessional conduct by colleagues; and
* be willing to participate in peer review of other physicians and to undergo review by your peers1
I would stress the importance of peer review in medicine, which is one of the defining characteristics of a self-regulating profession. Simply put, physicians are expected to hold themselves and their colleagues accountable for their behaviour and for the outcomes they achieve on behalf of their patients.2
The individual accountability that physicians have to themselves and to each other is reinforced by a collective accountability for lifelong learning and peer review that is mandated by the national credentialing bodies and by the province/territorial licensing bodies.
With regard to lifelong learning, both national credentialing bodies require evidence of ongoing continuing professional development as a condition of maintaining credentials. The College of Family Physicians of Canada operates a Maintenance of Proficiency program that requires its certificants to earn 250 credits over five years.3 The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada operates a Maintenance of Certification Program that requires its Fellows to achieve 400 credits over a five year period with a minimum 40 in any single year.4
The Canadian Medical Protective Association, the mutual defence organization that provides liability coverage for the vast majority of physicians in Canada also plays a role in identifying high risk areas of medical practice and providing a range of educational materials and programs designed to mitigate such risk.5
Each province and territory has a licensing body - usually known as a College of Physicians and Surgeons that is established to protect the public interest. These colleges operate mandatory peer review programs that ensure that physician's practices are reviewed at regular intervals. These programs typically involve a review of the physician's practice profile based on administrative data, a visit to the physician's office by a medical colleague in a similar type of practice and an audit of a sample of patient charts, followed by a report with recommendations.
In addition, most jurisdictions now have or will soon have in place a program pioneered in Alberta that provides a 360o assessment by administering questionnaires to a sample of a physician's patients, colleagues, and co-worker health professionals. These probe several aspects of competence and reports are provided back to the physician.6
Peer review is even more rigorous in the health care institutions where physicians carry out practices and procedures that involve the greatest potential risk to patients. Physicians are initially required to apply for hospital privileges that are reviewed annually by a credentials committee. These committees have the authority to renew, modify or cancel a physician's privileges. In between annual reviews a physician's day-to-day performance is subject to review by a variety of quality assurance processes and audit/review committees such as morbidity and mortality. Health care institutions in turn are subject to regular scrutiny by the Canadian Council on Health Services Accreditation which would include the oversight of physician practice among its review parameters.
In summary, the medical profession subscribes to the notion that competence is something that must regularly be reviewed and enhanced across the medical career life cycle, and that such reviews and assessments must be grounded in evidence that is gathered from peers and other validated tools.
Turning to our patients, one area that our members are regularly called on to assess competence is the determination of medical fitness to operate motor vehicles. To assist physicians in carrying out this societal responsibility, the CMA recently released our 7th edition of the Driver's Guide.7 What you will note about this 134 page guide is that the section on aging is only 3 pages long. The focus of the guide is on how substances such as alcohol and medications and a range of disease conditions such as cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease may impose risks on fitness to operate a range of motor vehicles including automobiles, off-road vehicles, planes and trains. It provides graduated guidelines that relate to the severity and stage of the condition. As is noted in the section on aging, while the guide acknowledges the greater prevalence of health conditions in older age groups and hence the higher crash rates among the 65 and over age group, it states that the high crash rates in older people cannot be explained by age-related changes alone. In fact, by avoiding unnecessary risk and possessing the most experience, healthy senior drivers are among the safest drivers on the road. Rather, it is the presence and accumulation of health-related impairments that affect driving that is the major cause of crashes for older people. Because older age per se does not lead to higher crash rates, age-based restrictions on driving are not supportable.
Rather than focusing on arbitrary age cutoffs what are required are evidence-based tools such as the Driver's Guide that can be used to detect and assess conditions that may present at any point in the life cycle.
I would like to return to the physician workforce and the practical implications of arbitrary age cutoffs. As you may know Canada is experiencing a growing shortage of physicians - the effects of which are about to be compounded as the first of the baby boomers turn 65 in 2011. Currently we rank 24th out of the 30 OECD countries in terms of physician supply per 1,000 population - our level of 2.2 physicians per 1,000 is one third below the OECD average of 3.0.
As of January 2008, according to the CMA physician Master File there are just over 8,200 licensed physicians in Canada who are aged 65 or older. They represent more than 1 in 10 (13%) of all licensed physicians. Moreover, they are very active; they work on average more than 40 hours per week and in addition more than 40% of them still have on-call responsibilities each month. These doctors make vital contributions to our health care system.
In conclusion, the CMA believes that the public interest is best served by ensuring that all competent physicians, regardless of age, are able to practice medicine. Artificial barriers to practice based on age are simply discriminatory and counter productive in an era of health human resource shortages.
Finally Madam Chair, we hope that the CMA will be invited back to appear before your committee. We have long been concerned with the access of the senior population to health care services and I will leave you with a copy of our policy on principles of medical care of older persons.8 We also hope you will examine the issue of long-term care which has had little if any national policy attention. I will also leave you with a copy of our recent technical background report on pre-funding of long-term care that we tabled at the Federal Minister of Finance's Roundtable in November 2007.9
Thank you again for this opportunity and I would be pleased to answer any questions.
1 Canadian Medical Association. CMA Code of ethics.(Update 2004). http://policybase.cma.ca/PolicyPDF/PD04-06.pdf. Accessed 01/23/08.
2 Canadian Medical Association. Medical professionalism (Update 2005). http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Policypdf/PD06-02.pdf. Accessed 01/23/08.
3 College of Family Physicians of Canada. Mainpro(r)Maintenance of Proficiency. http://www.cfpc.ca/English/cfpc/cme/mainpro/maintenance%20of%20proficiency/default.asp?s=1. Accessed 01/23/08.
4 Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. Maintenance of Certification Program. http://rcpsc.medical.org/opd/moc-program/index.php. accessed 01/23/08.
5 Canadian Medical Protective Association. Risk management @ a glance. http://www.cmpa-acpm.ca/cmpapd03/pub_index.cfm?FILE=MLRISK_MAIN&LANG=E. Accessed 01/23/08.
6 College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta. Physician Achievement Review Program. http://www.cpsa.ab.ca/collegeprograms/par_program.asp. Accessed 01/23/08.
7Canadian Medical Association. Determining medical fitness to operate motor vehicles. CMA Driver's Guide 7th edition.Ottawa, 2006.
8 Canadian Medical Association. Principles for medical care of older persons. http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/PolicyPDF/PD00-03.pdf. Accessed 01/23/08.
9 Canadian Medical Association. Pre-funding long-term care in Canada: technical backgrounder. Presentation to the Federal Minister of Finance's roundtable, Oshawa, ON, November 23, 2007.
Bill C-38 covers a lot of ground and we welcome the occasion to discuss it.
Right at the outset, let me remind you that the Canadian Medical Association has a long tradition of staunch non-partisanship. Our mandate is to be the national advocate for the highest standards in health and health care.
In a bill as wide-ranging as this one, there is a great deal I could talk about. In the time allotted, however, I am going to frame my brief remarks around three themes... namely:
First, what is very clearly in the bill;
Second, what is lacking in the bill, and
Third, what I would characterize as a general lack of clarity and consultation on certain aspects of the federal government's actions on health care.
First, I will comment on one of the key measures contained in the budget bill.
We are greatly concerned about the move to raise the age of eligibility for Old Age Security.
Many seniors have low incomes and delaying this relatively modest payment by two years is certain to have a negative impact.
For many older Canadians, who tend to have more complex health problems, medication is a life line. We know that, already, many cannot afford their meds.
Gnawing away at Canada's social safety net will no doubt force hard choices on some of tomorrow's seniors... the choice between whether to buy groceries or to buy their medicine.
I think it is safe to say it would not hold up to a cost-benefit analysis.
People who skip their meds, or lack a nutritious diet or enough heat in their homes, will be sicker.
In the end, this will put a greater burden on our health care system.
Let me now turn to a couple of things we were hoping to see in the budget but that are not there.
As we all know, the Finance Minister announced the government's plans for the Canada Health Transfer in December.
The CMA was encouraged when the Minister of Health subsequently spoke about collaborating with the provinces and territories on developing accountability measures for this funding.
We look forward to this accountability plan for the minimum of $446 billion that will flow to the provinces and territories in federal transfers for health over the next twelve years.
In both 2008 and 2009, the Euro-Canada Health Consumer Index ranked Canada last out of 30 countries in terms of value for money spent on health care.
We believe that federal government should lever its spending on health care to bring change to the system.
It could introduce incentives, measurable goals, pan-Canadian metrics and measurement that would link health care spending to comparable health outcomes.
This would recognize, too, that the federal government is itself the fifth-largest jurisdiction in health care delivery.
We believe the federal government has a role to play in leading this change and that transferring billions of federal dollars in the absence of this leadership shortchanges Canadians.
This budget thus represents an opportunity lost to find ways to transform the health care system and help Canadians get better value and better patient care for the money they spend on health care.
The other major piece missing from this budget is any move to establish a national pharmaceutical strategy.
A pharmaceutical strategy that would ensure consistent coverage and secure supply across the country remains unfinished business from eight years ago.
Access to pharmaceutical treatments remains the most glaring example of inequity of our health care system.
I should point out that the Senate Social Affairs Committee in its recent report on the 2004 Health Accord also recommended the implementation of a national pharmaceutical strategy.
Now I come to the third part of my remarks, which is about a general lack of clarity in regard to certain aspects of the federal government's responsibilities vis-a- vis health care.
Since the budget was tabled, the federal government has announced $100 million in cuts to the Interim Federal Health Program and eliminated the National Aboriginal Health Organization.
As far as we know, no one was consulted on these changes, and since they are not in the budget bill, there is no opportunity for debate on the potential implications on the health of Canadians.
We are also uncertain about the impact of changes in service delivery at Veterans Affairs Canada, changes in the mental health programs at the Department of National Defence, and plans to consolidate some of the functions of the Health Canada and the Canadian Public Health Agency.
There are many unknowns and these are serious matters that warrant serious consideration.
The government committed that it would not balance the books on the backs of the provinces, yet there appears to be a trend toward the downloading of health care costs to federal client groups or the provinces and territories or individuals.
As we have seen in the past, cost downloading is not the same as cost saving.
In fact, when health is impacted, the costs will be inevitably higher, both in dollars and in human suffering.