The recently reignited debate around the privatization of Canadian healthcare should sound alarm bells all over the country. Our healthcare system needs solutions to long-standing problems, but we must avoid a situation like that of the U.S.
Healthcare is a complicated issue that our government has failed to address for years. Canadians are dying waiting for care that should be accessible to all of us. Everyone wants to be able to buy their way to the front of the line, but privatizing healthcare would only benefit a small proportion of Canadians.
Staff shortages are a large part of the issue, and they have two main causes.
First, healthcare workers are underpaid and overworked because there aren’t enough of them to meet the demand.
Another widely discussed problem is the scarcity of medical and nursing school seats. Too many qualified candidates don’t get accepted into nursing and medical programs; nothing is being done even though we desperately need more health care professionals.
The rate at which new seats are added doesn’t even come close to matching the exponential increase in applicants each year. Prospective nurses used to have the options of college or university, but now programs have been limited which breeds competition.
Nurses are overworked and underpaid, so there’s little reward on top of how competitive programs are. If you are accepted to a nursing program, you may be forced into unpaid work instead of receiving the education you’re paying for like Dalhousie nursing students last year.
We need to treat healthcare workers and students with more respect if we ever hope to overcome this crisis with public healthcare intact.
Medical and nursing schools’ focus on prestige is symptomatic of the larger economic and social landscape—one that favours the white and affluent.
International medical school graduates fail to get residency spots in Canada, while new immigrants with medical qualifications are unable to transfer them to work in the field. Both result in us losing skilled healthcare workers.
The healthcare system should be built on people who represent society. Elite groups of people who are accepted into medical school may be more interested in research or specializing and don’t want to live in rural areas or smaller cities.
Specialized medicine pays more, so there’s less financial incentive to working in family medicine. This leaves emergency rooms flooded with people with nowhere else to go because they’re without a family doctor.
A possible solution is reserving seats in medical school for family medicine to help address the shortage. Setting up a system to fast-track qualified immigrants to jobs in medicine would also help reduce staffing shortages.
The way healthcare is organized in Canada should also be called into question. Political inconsistency makes provincial healthcare jurisdiction problematic. Constant swinging in policy means a lack of stability—something that’s necessary for effective care.
Other countries handle healthcare access and equity on the national level and leave providing care to municipalities. Communities know best what they need in terms of healthcare, and it makes sense to let them organize it for themselves to some extent.
Queen’s BeWell breaks down where to go for which health concerns. This is a good example of no one knowing a community’s needs better than the community itself; allowing communities more health jurisdiction and depoliticising care should be our priority.
It will take time to implement the changes our system needs, but we shouldn’t give up on public healthcare in the meantime.