Access must improve as P.E.I. health-care system under 'enormous strain,' says federal health minister

Affordability is only one part of accessibility, says Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos. (Tony Davis/CBC - image credit)
Affordability is only one part of accessibility, says Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos. (Tony Davis/CBC - image credit)

The Canadian health-care system was damaged by COVID-19 and faces stresses from an aging population that need to be solved, says federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos.

"The health system and health workers are under enormous strain," said Duclos during a visit to Prince Edward Island Tuesday.

"We owe it to Canadians to find immediate and longer-term solutions."

Duclos was on the Island to announce the addition of 23 new drugs to the P.E.I. formulary, including treatments for multiple sclerosis and pulmonary arterial hypertension.

Speaking on Island Morning before the announcement, Duclos said the additions will improve access to treatment for Islanders.

"Too many people on this Island have to make the impossible choice between paying rent and paying for drugs," he said.

But affordability is only one aspect of accessibility, said Duclos.

He noted that many Islanders do not have access to a primary health-care provider, but praised the province's medical home system, which was launched last year, as part of the solution. Medical homes include a number of different health-care professionals under one roof, and a visiting patient would consult with whichever one was appropriate.

"Access not only to a doctor but also to a nurse practitioner, a dietitian, a social worker, a mental-health specialist," said Duclos.

"Having access not only to a person but the right person at the appropriate time."

Health care must remain free and universal

Island Morning host Mitch Cormier also asked Duclos about recent moves in Ontario to open private clinics for some procedures.

The actual operations of any provincial health-care system is outside of his scope, Duclos said. But he noted administration of the Canada Health Act, along with its guarantees of universal and free access, is.

"There is hope that these changes that we see across Canada will be able to both be maintaining free but also universal access," he said.

Duclos said he would also be watching for the impact of the plan on the ability of smaller jurisdictions, such as P.E.I., to retain health-care workers in the face of increased competition.

"These are the same workers, essentially, so we don't want to weaken the public-health system by seeing more health-care workers moving to the private system," he said.

Provincial health ministers have a hard job to do, said Duclos, and he doesn't want to be cynical and negative about the difficulties they face.