Health care is not a back burner issue for Canadians

  • National Newswatch

The first federal leaders' debate was supposed to cover 'the key issues' on the minds of voters, and it could be the only English debate that voters will have the opportunity to hear from all national party leaders. Canada's nurses were disappointed that health care was not on the agenda. It's a good thing we have ten weeks to fix this.Canadians want leadership from the federal parties to ensure a strong national health care system. In June, a poll from Abacus Data, commissioned by the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions, showed that 58 per cent of voting-age respondents placed health care among their top three issues, and 77 per cent of respondents would consider supporting a party that would set national standards for continuing care.The failure to include the future of our Canadian health care system as a discussion point in the leaders' debate is a profound concern for the people who are responsible for delivering quality care.Canadians can be proud of our public health care system but reduced funding has consequences. Wait times for care are painfully long. Hospital beds are overcrowded with patients waiting to be sent to long-term care facilities. Nearly half a million Canadians can't access the home care needs they deserve and one in ten Canadians cannot afford to fill their health care prescriptions.Currently, health care spending increases six per cent each year to help offset increased pressures from a growing and rapidly aging population. The Conservative federal government's plan is cut that in half with a GDP-linked funding formula. Canada's Nurses worked closely with economist Hugh Mackenzie to examine what this massive change to heath care funding would really mean for Canadians. His analysis shows that the situation is even more critical than previously thought.Mackenzie estimates that with the new formula, $43.5 billion will be drained out of the health care system over just eight years. In more real terms, it's 59 million fewer annual home care visits; 2.6 million fewer patients regularly served by a primary care clinic; 7,500 unfunded long-term care beds; and more than 24,000 nurses not employed.That's unacceptable.It has already been challenging for health care professionals to deliver quality care even with that all-important six per cent annual increase. Canada's nurses have raised the alarm about these cuts to public health care funding and at the recent Council of the Federation in St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador Canada's Premiers endorsed our call for 25 per cent of health care funding to be federally funded by 2025. This call is a reasonable, responsible and prudent demand to ensure that our public health care system is there for people when they need quality care.Ensuring a strong and sustainable health care system will be one of the most fundamental debates that will affect each and every Canadian family for years to come. Yet, it was all but ignored last night. Now is the time to press for the next steps in our national health care system.Canada's Nurses are standing up for the health care Canadians deserve this federal election. We want to see a federal government that shows leadership and demonstrates a clear vision to build a national health care system that Canadians want and deserve. Every day we see the effects that draining money out of the system will have on the millions of patients and families we deal with, I ask all voters to demand support for health care from your candidates. Don't let it slide to the back burner.Linda Silas is the president of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions (CFNU).