By Tracy Zambory, president of the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses and Linda Silas, president of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions.
Health care is the single most important issue facing our country this election, yet our leaders have remained silent on it so far. The Harper Conservatives have vowed to reduce health-care funding by a whopping $43.5 billion over just the next eight years. This move promises to further weaken our health-care system, which is already struggling under current pressures. These cuts will have damaging effects on the Canadian economy as health costs are expected to increase due to an aging population and other cost drivers.
Canada’s nurses and other concerned citizens are shocked and disappointed that none of our leaders have spoken up for the health of Canadians this election.
While delivering health care is a provincial responsibility, the cofunding of provincial health care rests with the federal government. The problems facing our healthcare system are not unique to the provinces, they affect Canadians across the country and demand national leadership.
Publicly funded health care falls under the Canada Health Act. Reducing transfers from the federal government puts provincial health-care systems under further stress. This is why, in July, provincial premiers called on the federal government to commit to increase health transfers to a minimum 25 per cent federal funding relative to provincial costs.
As nurse leaders, we work with provincial governments on health care and are concerned about the direction we are heading in our province.
In Saskatchewan, we are already facing the challenges of an aging population. The Conservative government’s reduction of federal health-care transfers to the provinces will cut more than $366 million of much-needed funding over eight years. The impact on services in Saskatchewan with this level of cuts will be devastating.
Economist Michael Rachlis estimates the impacts could result in more than 1.3 million fewer homecare visits, 82,000 fewer primary care centre patients, 160 fewer long-term care beds and 710 fewer nurses employed, every year. This will be felt in Saskatchewan as it will be across
Canada. Nationally, the $43.5 billion health-care transfer reductions equate to 59 million fewer homecare visits, 2.6 million fewer primary care centre patients, 7,500 fewer long-term care beds and 24,000 fewer nurses employed, again every year that the cuts are in effect.
This is why Canada’s nurses are raising the alarm this election. It is time for our leaders to stand up for health care. Failing on health care signals a lack of concern for a key issue for Canadians and a failure to take into account the impact on the future of our economy. We know there are viable solutions. A national prescription drug plan would save Canada up to $11 billion per year. Investing in long-term care will move seniors from pricey hospital beds, which cost the country $2 billion per year, to an appropriate homecare setting. And a health human resource plan could reduce the more than 19 million overtime hours worked by nurses last year, costing almost $872 million.
Canada needs leadership capable of creating a plan to implement a safe seniors strategy, to create universal pharmacare, to develop a health human resources strategy and to defend our public health system, including a federal funding commitment of at least 25 per cent.
This country will be making a grave mistake if it follows through with the current plan to cut funding to our health-care system. On Oct. 19, voters need to take a stand for health care.