Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Hurry up and wait

The CP reports that not only have the Cons failed to address actual health wait times, but their negligence in dealing with the provinces has ensured that we still don't even have useful data to compare provincial wait times and outcomes:
Ottawa set up a $5.5-billion Wait Times Reduction Fund in 2004 as part of a 10-year plan to strengthen health care, and in return each jurisdiction agreed to establish comparable indicators of access to health care professionals, diagnostic and treatment procedures.

The idea was to provide the public with a national picture in which provincial laggards and leaders could be readily identified by their citizens. But it never happened, says (a Health Council of Canada report).

"The information needed to paint a cross-Canada picture - information that allows Canadians to see changes over time and to compare wait times data from different parts of the country - is not available from all jurisdictions, despite widespread recognition that it should be."

Provinces were supposed to establish pan-Canadian benchmarks for five priority areas of health care by Dec. 31, 2005, but they have not done so, says the report. Instead, each province has declared benchmarks for different procedures.

"Without comparable data - information that is based on similar ways of measuring change - it is not possible to determine on a national level whether meaningful reductions in wait times have been achieved, or how many people receive their care within the time frames (benchmarks) agreed to," says the report.
The Health Council of Canada rightly notes the problems with an overly narrow focus on wait times to begin with. But whether or not it makes sense to divert health resources to a small and arbitrary list of procedures, it could only be a plus to have an accurate reading on how long patients actually have to wait in as many areas as possible.

Unfortunately, thanks to the Cons' accountability-free philosophy in dealing with the provinces, there's little prospect that the situation will improve as long as Harper holds power. And Canadians already waiting for health care surely can't be happy having to wait for a change in government before they'll have any idea where they stand.

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