DEADLINE FOR HEALTH BENCHMARKS MAY COME TOO SOON

I think somebody in Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh’s office is calling in favours. As I flip through the headlines over the past week and a half, I am once again confronted by headlines that contradict each other. It seems that while the official word of those in the know, such as the Fraser Institute, there is no way that wait times in Canada’s provinces in relation to health care are improving. The media is telling quite a different story.

Mr. Dosanjh appeared on CBC earlier in the week to speak about the improvements made in the area of wait times, an area critical to the Liberal’s goal of keeping their stranglehold on our medical system and the choices that we are given. The Supreme Court has given the federal government a year to substantially reduce the times that Canadians have to wait.

In response, the federal government has vowed to come up with a system of waiting time benchmarks in several areas of medicine by December 31 of this year. Following a meeting with his provincial counterparts last weekend, Health Minister Dosanjh said that he was “absolutely certain”that the benchmarks would be met.

He went on to say that “All of the provinces have been making excellent progress on this issue working with each other across jurisdictions and I am absolutely confident that we will have benchmarks, a first set of … clinically evidence-based benchmarks by Dec. 31, 2005 in all areas.” To help out with the costs, the feds threw in an extra $41 billion dollars over ten years late last year.

The areas which are being targeted are cardiac surgery, cancer treatment, diagnostic scans such as CAT and MRI scans, eye operations, and hip and knee replacements.

On October 12, CTV reported from Ottawa that provincial officials had stated that there was “..no way they can keep the promise of last year’s health accord to draw up evidence-based benchmarks for wait times for a range of high-priority medical services.” B.C. Health Minister George Abbott stated that there were only a few areas in which “one might be able to move forward by evidence-based benchmarks.”

The man who heads the Ontario wait times program, Mr. Alan Hudson, has said that there is evidence to support benchmarks in only two areas, those being cardiac surgery and cancer treatment. His federal counterpart, Brian Postl, has been dancing on both sides of the debate. Earlier he had said that there won’t be enough evidence to set benchmarks by December 31, but was later sent out to the press to offer the opposite viewpoint.

The Fraser Institute in Vancouver released its report on provincial wait times and concluded that they were at their second longest ever during this past year. Nadeem Esmail, a health analyst at the Institute stated that “Canadians should not be fooled into thinking that this small reduction in overall waiting is a good-news story.”