Federal government announces an additional $2 billion to eliminate surgical backlogs, promises more money for future health transfers

Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos announced Friday that the federal government will send an additional $2 billion to provinces and territories to help eliminate the health care backlog created by the years-long pandemic crisis. .

Over the past two years, provinces and territories have canceled hundreds of thousands of “elective” surgeries, leaving many Canadians waiting for hip replacements, cataract surgery or treatment. against cancer, among dozens of other interventions.

Surgeries were canceled as hospitals scrambled to shift resources to cope with the overwhelming COVID caseload.

The healthcare system is facing a major staff shortage after some workers quit or fell ill, and is struggling to get back to a more normal pace.

Last year, the federal government announced $4 billion in funding to clear the backlog. He said he is getting more involved now because the problem has only gotten worse since the start of the Omicron wave of the pandemic.

Duclos touted the one-time top-up to the Canada Health Transfer — money Ottawa sends to the provinces each year to cover some of the costs of running the health care system — as a “major investment” that will soon lead to postponed surgeries. .

“It means that hip replacement that your mom or dad has been waiting for won’t be put off any longer,” Duclos said. “For many Canadians, today’s announcement will be a huge relief.”

Duclos also signaled that the federal government is willing to permanently increase the health transfer in the future. It would meet a consistent demand from premiers, who argue Ottawa’s share of health care spending is far lower than it promised to pay when public health care was set up decades ago. .

Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos says that without immediate action, Canada’s health care system is at risk. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Premiers say they want the federal share of health care costs to rise from 22% to 35%. Duclos did not say how much extra money the provinces can expect to receive, but he acknowledged the government needs to do more to help a system on the ropes after years of a pandemic and chronic underfunding.

“While today’s announcement is great news, we know there’s still a lot to do,” said Duclos. “We must recognize that unless we act quickly and decisively, the long-term survival of the universal, public health care system that Canadians cherish is in jeopardy.”

Strings attached?

As Ottawa and the provinces prepare to begin negotiations on an increased health care transfer, Duclos outlined the federal government’s top five priorities for the system on Friday: an end to backlogs and many more health care workers, better access to primary care, a better system of long-term care and home care for seniors, more resources for mental health and addictions, and a new push to digitize health data and facilitate more care virtual.

The federal government could eventually require the provinces to spend new funds in these priority areas, which this Liberal government has done in the past with agreements on mental health and home care. Premiers have repeatedly said they want “unconditional long-term funding”.

Duclos said Canadians are not interested in a protracted battle or a “fiscal or financial battle” between Ottawa and the provinces over money and jurisdiction.

“Patients waiting for surgery and families hoping to access family health services want results. They want care. Canadians are not interested in a sterile budget debate,” said Duclos.