© Copyright 2006 Rogers Publishing Ltd. The following article first appeared in the March 2005 edition of BENEFITS CANADA magazine.
To avoid a healthcare personnel deficit, action is needed: Decter.

The threat of a healthcare workforce shortage is looming, and Michael Decter, chair of the Health Council of Canada, warns that “health human resources” need renewal quickly. The Council released its first annual report Jan. 27, titled Healthcare Renewal in Canada: Accelerating Change, reporting progress on the recommendations reached among the First Ministers. “Quite simply, we don’t have enough healthcare providers to meet our needs in the future,” said Decter in a speech to the Economic Club of Toronto. “Renewal begins with proper planning, education and training.”

“Canada’s First Ministers announced the Health Council of Canada as part of their 2003 Accord on Healthcare Renewal,” said Decter. “Just over a year ago, we began our work.” The Council’s mandate is to independently monitor and report to Canadians on progress toward healthcare renewal and the status of the health of Canadians.

Decter said there has been progress towards renewing the healthcare system, but not fast enough. “If we don’t plan for baby boomers retiring, we’ll be losing a big chunk of the healthcare workforce, right when we don’t need to lose them,” said Decter. “In two words, we [the Council] say we need to hurry up, otherwise we risk losing the progress that is being made.”

For example, Decter said Canada has more MRI units in place, but lacks properly trained technicians to operate them. The report stresses the need to develop a comprehensive strategy to ensure the healthcare system can meet the needs of Canada’s changing and aging population.

Decter made it clear that unless a plan is put in place soon, Canada will not have a healthcare workforce with the necessary skills to achieve healthcare reform, reduce wait times and meet increasing service demands.

The Council is sponsoring a summit in June 2005 where key stakeholders can identify and encourage action to support a national health HR plan to ensure a sustainable workforce.

“We hope that an important summit outcome will be better support for provinces and territories, all of which report shortages of qualified, trained personnel,” said Decter.

Summit attendees will include representatives from governments, labour, professional associations, regulators, educators, and healthcare organizations.

So far, Decter said feedback on the report is encouraging, adding “there is an appetite for change.” He is hopeful that the summit in June will provide answers to the “urgent challenges we face.”

A long wait for care
Canadians are continuing to wait for critical health treatments because of a lack of standardization in the monitoring of wait times, according to the Health Council’s report. It finds that there are many discrepancies in the ways doctors across the country track their patients’ wait times. “Currently, seven provinces are monitoring wait times in Web-based programs,” said chair Michael Decter. “But the criteria physicians use to prioritize, place and track patients on waiting lists vary widely, so it is very difficult to gather and analyze any national data.” He said without more information about doctors’ practices, a solution to long waiting times will remain elusive. The Council wants to develop clear monitoring guidelines to record patient data.

Chandra Price

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