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New report cites staffing shortages and surgical backlogs among health-care gaps in Canada

The Canadian Institute for Public Health Information (CIHI) released a new report on Wednesday, highlighting issues within Canada’s health-care system that millions have already felt.

Staffing shortages, lack of access to family physicians and surgical backlogs remain some of the main hurdles for provinces to overcome, according to the report.

The report shows about 743,000 fewer surgeries were performed during the first two-and-a-half years of the pandemic across Canada, representing a 13 per cent decline compared to 2019. This data does not include Quebec.

In Alberta, that number was ten per cent.

Newfoundland and Labrador (21 per cent) and Manitoba (18 per cent) were the two provinces most impacted by surgical delays and cancellations.

Despite fewer surgeries being performed nationwide, health-care workers put in massive amounts of overtime hours in 2020-21.

“The 18 million overtime hours worked in Canada’s public hospitals in 2020–21 is the equivalent of more than 9,000 full-time jobs, which gives a sense of the increased workload during the pandemic’s first year,” notes the CIHI report.

“The pressure contributed to burnout and illness, which can have long-term implications for the health of workers and for health care systems. Some workers changed jobs and even careers.”

Surveys conducted between 2019 and 2021 found that roughly 12 per cent of Canadians aged 12 and up, not including Quebec, did not have access to a regular health care provider.

As the nation’s population continues to grow rapidly, it’s an issue that persists .

The report shows about 13 per cent of Albertans 12 years old and up do not have access to a regular health care provider.

“Having a regular health care provider is important for preventing and treating common health issues, regularly monitoring and treating chronic diseases such as diabetes, and supporting good health,” CIHI’s report notes.

“Usually, the provider is a family doctor, general practitioner, nurse or nurse practitioner. Primary care providers screen for diseases, treat medical conditions, give lifestyle advice and provide ongoing care with medication and other treatments.”

The report suggests 19 per cent Prince Edward Island resident aged 12 and up do not have access to a regular health provider. 

That’s the highest percentage out of the ten Canadian provinces. 

“What we know is that things are a little different depending on where you live, and how old you are. Almost all seniors had a regular health provider, but it’s the younger age groups that are 18 to 34 years old who are the least likely to have that kind of an important relationship,” said Kathleen Morris, vice president of Research and Analysis at CIHI. 

“It also matters where you live. In rural and remote areas It’s tough to find a regular health care provider. Sometimes that’s because there aren’t enough of them, and sometimes because they are not taking new patients.”

Recruiting more physicians is something the Alberta government highlighted as a priority when it signed a 10-year, $24 billion healthcare funding deal with the federal government in February.

“The funding announcement really focused in on areas that I think Canadians care a lot about. Access to health care providers, surgical wait times, good mental health care, and being able to see their own data digitally and these are all important priorities,” said Morris. 

“What we hope to be able to do is find great ways to measure and then track the progress over time on an on a yearly basis.”

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