Top doctor says health care needs to move off of the election waiting list

CALGARY - The president of the Canadian Medical Association wants health care moved from the waiting list to the top of the agenda in the federal election campaign.

Dr. Jeff Turnbull told a Calgary audience that Canada's health-care system is at a crossroads and the federal government needs to expand its role.

"That's why, in this newly launched federal election campaign, Canada's doctors will be pressing to put health care on the agenda," Turnbull said Wednesday in a speech to the Calgary Chamber of Commerce.

"Canadians have identified health care as their priority and I would like to see our elected officials now starting to have that debate and I'd like to see a much greater conversation about how we're going to transform health care for future generations."

So far, says Turnbull, the federal parties are offering nothing more than "piecemeal initiatives" instead of a picture of what the system should be in the future.

The system as it stands now is inefficient, he said, and it should be run more like a business so that the money saved from any efficiencies can be funnelled back into the system.

The current federal-provincial health accord is set to expire in 2014 and Ottawa needs to take a bigger role, he said.

"Some people want you to believe that the federal role is just as a funder. It is absolutely not. The federal government is the custodian of the Canada Health Act," Turnbull added.

"It delivers services to military, RCMP, First Nations and Inuit. It should be responsible for facilitating the best health care within your jurisdiction, for your communities. I do believe there is a role for the federal government in ensuring medicare is pan-Canadian, rather than 14 separate systems."

The Canadian Medical Association has been consulting with Canadians about the future of health care for more than three months through its website. What it's heard so far from 50,000 respondents has not been good.

"They're having trouble getting access to primary care, congested emergency departments, cancelled surgery, trouble getting into home-based care or long-term care," Turnbull said.

"Canadians are expressing to us on an ongoing basis and the Canadian doctors who are charged with the responsibility of giving effective care and serving their communities — they're coming to us and saying please fix this health-care system."

He's not suggesting one giant superboard overseeing all the provinces and territories but he said there should be national standards to make sure everyone receives good health care.

Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach said he supports the idea of a more universal approach to health care.

"That's fine. Stand shoulder-to-shoulder across Canada and bring about changes. We can't do this province-by-province nor can we follow the same process we did in the past," said Stelmach.

"When the Canada Health Act was passed in Ottawa it was a 50-50 split on health care. Today as an Alberta taxpayer you are providing more than 80 per cent of health-care costs. Other provinces are in similar situations."
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