Federal Health Minister Mark Holland is set to sit down with his provincial and territorial counterparts in Charlottetown on Wednesday to discuss how they’re going to grow the health workforce.
Holland, who was shuffled into the health portfolio this summer during what many advocates have called a crisis in health care, as health workers struggle to keep the provincial and territorial systems afloat.
Bringing new workers into the industry and retaining those who are already there is the priority, Holland said.
“We have to look at our foreign credentials, we have to look at pan-Canadian licensure,” he said at a press conference in British Columbia on Tuesday.
The ministers will also talk about improving the integration of health data from one province to the next, which is a condition of the health accord the prime minister offered premiers in February.
The meeting in Prince Edward Island comes a day after British Columbia signed the first bilateral funding agreement with Ottawa as part of that accord.
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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offered $196 billion to the provinces and territories over the next 10 years to improve access to health care. That funding includes increases to the federal health transfer and tailored one-on-one agreements to target the specific needs in different jurisdictions.
In exchange, premiers must promise to improve data sharing and empirically measure their progress to toward set goals and targets.
All provinces and territories have agreed to the health accord in principle except for Quebec, which has balked at being accountable to Ottawa for how money is spent.
Holland said he’s still optimistic the federal government will be able to reach a deal with the last holdout province.
“There’s old instincts. We want to protect turf, we want to protect jurisdiction, we want to protect our political interests,” he said.
“We can’t afford it.”
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The Canadian Medical Association says the health crisis that spurred the government to offer the new health accords in February has worsened in some parts of the country, though there are pockets of improvement.
CMA president Dr. Kathleen Ross said her organization plans to hold a reception for the ministers to talk about how to solve the health human resources problem.
“There’s a commitment toward working with all of our health-care providers in more of a team-based care model, and that really is going to be the focus of our discussions over the next couple of days in P.E.I.,” she said in an interview on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the federal government is working on two major programs as part of the supply-and-confidence deal with the New Democrats that could impact health-care delivery in the provinces.
Holland has promised to table pharmacare legislation before the end of the year that will pave the way to a national drug plan that will likely be administered by the provinces.
The government will also reveal its plans for a dental insurance plan this fall that will eventually offer coverage to low- and middle-income families who aren’t privately insured.
The federal government has not said yet how that plan will integrate with existing provincial dental plans for low-income earners.
The health ministers are expected to hold a press conference at the end of their two days of meetings.
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