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Recent federal investment into NL healthcare welcomed, but prompts questions

MHA Tony Wakeham (Stephenville – Port au Port). –File photo

By Jaymie White Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

WEST COAST — On Feb. 7, the federal government announced $198.6 billion over the next 10 years, including $46.2 billion in new funding, to help improve healthcare services for Canadians. Included in this funding is $2 billion in an immediate and unconditional Canada Health Transfer (CHT) top-up which aims to address the immediate strains in the health care system. During this announcement it was stated that where the money goes and in what quantities would be discussed and decided within each province and territory as they all have their own issues and concerns that need to be addressed. On Feb. 23, the Governments of Canada and Newfoundland and Labrador reached an agreement in principle to deliver these services. The shared plan will invest $2.17 billion in federal funding to NL over the course of 10 years, including $749 million for a new bilateral agreement which focuses on shared health priorities and $27 million, through the CHT top-up, to address more pressing needs that are needed for immediate solutions, like those in pediatric hospitals and emergency rooms and the excessive wait times for surgeries. Another shared priority is the ability to help Canadians age with dignity, closer to home, with necessary access to home care or a safe long-term care facility, and that work is already in progress. The next step forward is to work on a bilateral agreement that will be based on a three-year action plan that will outline targets, timelines and common indicators of common health priorities in each jurisdiction. “Aligning with the recommendations of Health Accord NL, this funding will aid in strengthening our health care system to ensure better health care outcomes for the province,” said Tom Osborne, Minister of Health and Community Services with the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador. The federal government is also working on streamlining the foreign credential recognition for internationally educated health professionals and advance labour mobility for key health professionals to lower the difficulties in having foreign health care professionals come to the country to work. “Today’s agreement in principle with Newfoundland and Labrador is an opportunity to continue our collaboration and improve the experience of health workers and those they care for. It will modernize our health care system, improve access to family health services and mental health services, reduce surgical backlogs and support health workers. Better quality of care means helping Canadians live longer, healthier lives,” said Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Health for the Government of Canada. The province will also commit to an integrated, inclusive approach to investments in numerous respects, including health service teams, the health workforce, and data and digital tools that will help meet the health and mental health needs. “Mental health is health, and through this agreement in principle, we will be working with Newfoundland and Labrador to integrate mental health and substance use care as a full and equal part of our universal health care system. This agreement will help to provide greater access to mental health services, reduce substance use harms, and lower stigma. Together, we must ensure that all Canadians have access to support and services for their mental health and well-being – when they need them, wherever they need them,” said Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, and Associate Minister of Health with the Government of Canada. While additional funding is seen as a positive move forward, MHA Tony Wakeham (Stephenville – Port au Port) believes there are some stipulations that could result in future issues. “You have to always be happy to see more money invested into healthcare in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador by the federal government, but unfortunately the federal government did not listen to the requests of the provinces, and most provinces have expressed their disappointment in the amount of funding that is being received,” said Wakeham. “This money is welcomed, but we will have to wait and see how it is targeted, where it is targeted, and the impacts that it has.” Having a time frame attached to the funding announcement is something Wakeham also finds a bit worrisome. “A lot of the money that’s being transferred has time limits on it, whether it be five years or ten years. They didn’t add it to the transfer fund, to the normal annual amounts that we would get from the federal government for health transfers. It’s more along the lines of targeted amounts that have expiry dates,” said Wakeham. “So while we will use this money to invest in our health system and to build those things that need to be done and to fix those things that need to be fixed, what happens when that money runs out? It’s not guaranteed to continue. It may continue for five years, it may continue for ten years, but there’s expiry dates on it and that’s a concern. I would’ve preferred to have seen more money put into the Federal Health Transfer Fund on a permanent basis which would assure us of guaranteed funding as we move forward into the future.”

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