CHPS delivers message on shortages to Commons committee

Ottawa (28 May 2008) - Canada desperately needs an effective strategic national plan to train more health professionals, says the Canadian Health Professionals Secretariat (CHPS).

"Otherwise, efforts to improve access and modernize the system will fail," secretariat co-chair Elisabeth Ballermann told the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health Tuesday.   See full brief here.

Ballermann also emphasized in her brief to the committee that while health care reform is urgently required it is important that it be "done through innovation within the public system."

"If the federal government demonstrates leadership on these two issues, wait times could be dramatically reduced, quality of care improved, long-term costs controlled and the move towards for-profit medicine could be halted," she told MPs.

The Commons he committee is reviewing the 10-year Plan to Strengthen Health Care adopted by the federal government and the provinces in 2004.

Ballermann said a major deficiency in the plan was the absence of a strategy to address a large and growing shortage of health professionals, who work in hospitals, long-term care facilities, mental health services, laboratories, home care services and public health agencies.

CHPS members deal with patients at every level of care from diagnosis to treatment to recovery yet few Canadians are aware of critical shortages that exist in occupations outside the ranks of doctors and nurses, Ballermann told MPs.

"For example, there are large and growing shortages of pharmacists, social workers, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, X-ray / MRI / CT technologists, and respiratory technologists.... Its a crisis thats already arrived in many communities."

Ballermann also noted that 80% of diagnostic treatment and decisions are based on tests performed by lab technologists. Yet there are an estimated 1,000 vacant positions in Canada today and 35,000 more in the U.S. while a startling 50% of the current workforce is eligible to retire by 2015.

The plan has also failed to "promote and ensure innovative solutions" within the public health system, Ballerman said.

She argued that the federal government must do more to promote and ensure innovation within the public system for three reasons:

1. Its the right thing to do. Turning to the for-profit sector for solutions means abandoning the core Canadian values that led us to establish our single-payer system in the first place. Our health care system must remain a moral enterprise and never become a mere business venture.

2. Its also the smart thing to do. A parallel for-profit system will not relieve pressure on the public system. On the contrary, it will exacerbate wait times and lead to higher overall costs. There are many reasons why this is true but a major one is the serious shortage of health professionals in this country. A parallel for-profit system would drain these scarce health professionals out of the public system and exacerbate the wait time problem. After all, there are only so many physicians, nurses, pharmacists and technologists, and the more you take out of the public system to work for queue jumpers, the wait times in the public system get longer.

3. Innovation within the public system works.

CHPS is a national advocacy body that represents 70,000 unionized health professionals who deliver the diagnostic, clinical, rehabilitation and preventative services that are essential to timely and quality health care. Some of the highly trained professionals represented by CHPS include medical laboratory technologists, physiotherapists, social workers, pharmacists, occupational therapists, dietitians and psychologists. These professionals work in hospitals, long-term care facilities, mental health services, laboratories, home care services and public health agencies.