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Incoming president throws down gauntlet on seniors care issues

The next federal election is more than a year away, but the CMA’s new president has already put politicians on notice that they can expect to be grilled on seniors care during the upcoming campaign.

“Canadians are tired of excuses as to why the federal government can’t take action (on this issue),” said Dr. Chris Simpson, who assumed the presidency Aug. 20 during the CMA’s 147th annual meeting. “Show us that you are nation-builders and that you believe in a Canada that is greater than the sum of its parts. Commit to the development of a national seniors care strategy.”

Simpson, a cardiologist from Kingston, ON, said action is urgently needed. For instance, only 16% of Canadians who die in 2014 will have access to quality palliative care.

“How well you die in Canada depends a lot on your postal code,” he said.

His message for federal political parties was blunt. “Tell us how you will help to improve Canadians’ access to quality palliative care … Tell us how you will guide us into a future that successfully helps and manages the hundreds of thousands of patients who are afflicted…”

He promised that the CMA will work with governments “of any political stripe” that advocate for a comprehensive national seniors care strategy. “We understand all the constitutional nuances involved – ‘health care is a provincial responsibility,’ says the Constitution – but we also know that a committed federal government is a necessary ingredient of success.”

Simpson stressed that seniors care is only the starting point for the many jobs that lie ahead for the CMA. He noted that Canada’s health care system ranked next to last among the 11 countries surveyed by the Commonwealth Fund in 2014. How do the three most successful countries in the survey – the United Kingdom, Switzerland and Sweden – differ from Canada?

“Is it more private care?” Simpson asked. “Well, no — they have the same level of private health care investment as we do. And the US, with the most private care, is doing the worst. So that’s not it.”
Instead, said Simpson, improved system performance in the top three countries occurs for three reasons: they set ambitious system improvement goals and targets, they seek and earn buy-in from physicians, and strong leadership is provided by a committed federal or national government.

Simpson argues that improved performance is crucial because life expectancy has grown by 58% – from 51 to 81 years – in the last century. “This reality is transforming our society,” he said, noting that Canadians’ average age was 27 years when Canada’s universal health care system was adopted in the 1960s. Today it is 47 years, and approximately 15% of hospital beds are occupied by seniors waiting to be sent somewhere more appropriate.

“We estimate that warehousing of seniors in hospitals is costing $2.3 billion a year,” he said. “A patient in a hospital bed costs the system about $1,000 a day while long-term care costs about $130 a day and home care $55. We believe it is time all levels of government do the math and spend smarter.”

Simpson, the head of cardiology at Queen’s University, is no stranger to leadership roles. A decade ago he was the first recipient of the CMA Award for Young Leaders. He praised his predecessor, Dr. Louis Hugo Francescutti, for his work as “a supportive mentor and effective change agent.”    

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