OTTAWA, November 29, 2021 – As members of the Health Charities Coalition of Canada, a member-based organization that represents 24 of the largest patient organizations in the country, we are wholly focused on protecting and improving the health of the millions of Canadians we represent. As part of this Coalition, we are dedicated to advocating for sound public policy on health issues and promoting the highest quality health research. It is our fundamental belief that improved health outcomes and decisions based on evidenced-based and patient-supported research should be at the heart of what Parliamentarians do.
As our 44th Parliament convenes this month, we know the state of our healthcare system is top of mind for many Canadians, as it is for us. This is why we are calling on you to help us address the grave concerns that we have for the serious health risks that have been created throughout the pandemic.
It is impossible to understate the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on healthcare delivery and, in consequence, on patients. In some cases, those impacts have been very positive. The healthcare system has responded with incredible agility to the increase in demand for services, finding ways to expedite vaccine approvals without compromising quality, leveraging virtual medicine to deliver care and mobilizing health data analysis to target healthcare interventions. And partners such as health charities stepped up to find new ways to respond to the needs of patients – filling gaps in information and service delivery to augment the capacity of the healthcare system.
The pandemic has also had some very negative consequences for the health of Canadians. The burden of protecting people from and caring for those affected by COVID-19 has caused gaps and delays in accessing primary care, screening and diagnostics, specialized care and much-needed surgery and rehabilitation. In Ontario alone, for example, cancer screening dropped over 40% during the first year of the pandemic. These delays are making patients sicker and will ultimately increase costs to our healthcare system.
The strain on the healthcare system and problems with access to healthcare also cause more severe complications of progressive diseases, such as diabetes. For example, those with diabetic foot problems during the pandemic had more severe infections and increased emergencies necessitating more amputations, and the amputations they had tended to be more extensive.
Finally, patients of all sorts are having to wait longer for treatment once diagnoses are made. For example, Fighting Blindness Canada found a precipitous drop in eye injections and significant growth in the wait list for elective surgeries in 2020. Even before the pandemic, the rate of blindness was rising steeply in Canada. Treatments can stabilize sight for over 100,000 Canadians, but only if they seek those treatments. Health spending on vision care, which had already been expected to double by 2031, will rise even more steeply unless Canadians seek and receive care. According to the Ontario Medical Association, the pandemic created a backlog of almost 20 million health-care services, including doctors’ visits, diagnostic tests, treatments and surgeries – one that will take herculean effort to clear up.
In addition to direct impacts on healthcare access, the pandemic has also limited timely access for patients to much needed medications, supplies and allied health services. Many Canadians have lost private health insurance coverage and steady employment, which makes paying out of pocket for medications and treatment an even greater burden than it was pre-pandemic. Between 2019 and 2020, an Angus Reid poll found that Canadians were twice as likely to have lost prescription drug coverage as to have gained it. This exacerbated a problem that existed before the pandemic hit: then about 7.5 million Canadians either did not have prescription drug insurance or had inadequate insurance to cover their medication needs. One in four Canadian households were having difficulty finding money to buy their medicines. One million Canadians cut spending on food and heat to afford them. We simply cannot allow this problem to go unsolved.
And as we know well, COVID-19 has intensified and highlighted significant health and social inequities in our society. Marginalized groups such as BIPOC Canadians, newcomers to Canada, lower income-earning Canadians and seniors have been shown to be most likely to contract both infectious and chronic diseases and develop complications and are least able to access equitable, culturally safe and sensitive care, medications and supports.
We need to do better to ensure access and equity in our healthcare system to protect the health of all Canadians.
That is why our members call on the 44th Parliament to commit to the following:
- Engage patients in healthcare system recovery and enhancement
- Collaborate with provinces and territories and health charities to implement, and properly fund, strategies to support the recovery of our healthcare system post COVID-19.
- Devote resources to address systemic racism and other barriers to access to equitable, quality healthcare for BIPOC Canadians.
- Actively engage patients and patient groups in consultations to reform the eligibility process for federal disability programs and benefits and to work towards the design of a new disability benefit.
- Develop a clear system for data quality, standardization, and management in healthcare, in collaboration with responsible agencies and parties.
- Ensure every Canadian has timely access to care
- Address significant post COVID-19 chronic care backlogs with issues such as HHR shortages (nurses and allied health professionals), delayed hospital appointments, access to diagnostics and treatments.
- Improve medical treatment and supports for all Canadians, leveraging virtual and digital medicine to bring quality care to patients in a timely fashion, whether they live in an urban, rural or remote setting.
- Dedicate additional funding to enhance healthcare capacity to address gaps in access to chronic disease care, primary care, and palliative care.
- Expand Canadians’ access to medications
- Ensure the patient voice is integrated into every aspect of the development of policies, procedures and regulations around access to medicines and treatment, in particular the development of a Pharmacare approach and the Canadian Drug Agency.
- Ensure consultative patient engagement on federal policy issues, such as the PMPRB, pharmacare, and a rare disease strategy.
- Fund vital health research in Canada
- Protect and prevent further losses in vital health research by creating a $103 million fund to support health charity research initiatives, improve patient outcomes and fill the research gaps created by decreased charitable giving during the pandemic.
- Enable Canadians to benefit from clinical trials by ensuring they’re run in Canada and opening up access to them.
Finally, we would urge Parliamentarians to reflect on the critical role that health charities in Canada play, not only in shaping the policy environment affecting our healthcare system, but also in delivering direct patient supports. The latter has never been truer than since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and yet health charities as a sector are struggling due to the economic impacts of the pandemic. According to a Nanos poll done in 2020, four out of five Canadians say health charities play an important or somewhat important role in Canada’s health care system. With financial and regulatory supports from the federal government, members of the Health Charities Coalition of Canada can continue to be strong partners to governments in ensuring that every Canadian can live their healthiest life.
Alzheimer Society of Canada
Arthritis Society of Canada
Canadian Cancer Society
Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association
Canadian Liver Foundation
Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation
Crohn’s and Colitis Canada
Cystic Fibrosis Canada
Fighting Blindness Canada
Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada
Huntington Society of Canada
Kidney Cancer Canada
The Kidney Foundation of Canada
The Lung Association
Lung Health Foundation
Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada
Muscular Dystrophy Canada
Ovarian Cancer Canada
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