Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos announced Friday that the federal government will send another $2 billion to provinces and territories to help remove the healthcare backlog caused 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 replacement, cataract surgery or cancer treatment, among dozens of other procedures.
Surgeries have been called off as hospitals scrambled to divert resources to deal with the overwhelming burden of COVID cases.
The health care system is facing a major employment crisis after some workers quit or fall ill, and have struggled to resume a more normal rhythm.
The federal government announced $4 billion in funding to end last year’s backlog. She said it’s dwindling even more now because the problem has worsened since the start of the Omicron wave of the pandemic.
Duclos has offered a one-time raise to Canada Health Transfer — the money Ottawa sends to provinces each year to cover some of the health care system’s operating costs — as a “significant investment” that will soon result in rescheduled surgeries.
“This means that the hip replacement your mom or dad has been waiting for will no longer be postponed,” Duclos said. “For many Canadians, today’s announcement will be a huge relief.”
Duclos also indicated that the federal government is willing to permanently increase health transfers going forward. This would satisfy an enduring demand from prime ministers, who argue that Ottawa’s share of health care spending is far less than it promised to pay when the public health care system was first implemented in decades.
WATCH: Health Secretary outlines Ottawa’s strategy to reduce backlog on CBC’s Power & Politics
Prime Ministers say they want to increase the federal share of health care costs from 22 per cent to 35 per cent. Duclos did not say how much money counties could expect to receive, but acknowledged that the government should do more to help a system on the ropes after years of the pandemic and chronic funding shortfalls.
“While today’s announcement is good news, we know there is a lot more to do,” Duclos said. “We need to acknowledge that if we do not act quickly and decisively, the long-term survival of the comprehensive public health system that Canadians cherish is at risk.”
As Ottawa and the provinces prepare to begin negotiations on increasing health transfer, Duclos on Friday outlined the federal government’s top five priorities for the system: ending backlogs and too many health care workers, improving access to primary care, and a better system for long-term care and home care for seniors Age, more resources for mental health and substance use and a renewed push to digitize health data and facilitate more virtual care.
The federal government may eventually require provinces to spend any new money on these priority areas — something this liberal government has done in the past with agreements on mental health and home care. Prime Ministers have repeatedly said they want “long-term unconditional financing”.
Duclos said Canadians are not interested in a protracted fight or “financial or financial battle” between Ottawa and the provinces over money and the judiciary.
“Patients waiting for surgery and families hoping for family health services want results. They want care. Canadians are not interested in a sterile financial discussion,” Duclos said.