Editorial – Don’t kid yourselves, it’s rationed health care

Mac Olsen

We Canadians like to think that our health care system is the best in the world, that other nations seek to model their systems after it – what a laugh.

Let’s be realistic and call it rationed health care, because there are only so many doctors, nurses, specialists, hospitals and long-term facilities to go around. Despite our federal and provincial governments’ best efforts to throw more money at health care to reduce waiting lists for doctor and specialist access, medical testing, as well as critical surgeries, we’re still dealing with backlogs with all these health services and procedures, with no promise that things will get better.

I first became aware of the politics of health care delivery in the early 1990s, during a national debate about how to improve access and delivery, when governments were making bold promises that they would fix the problems. I lived in B.C. at the time and I saw relatives and friends struggle to get appointments to see their doctors or specialists, having to wait weeks if not months to get access because of the waiting lists or backlogs.

Twenty-five years later, nothing has improved in B.C. If anything, the situation has become worse across Canada, as health care providers must prioritize who gets to see a specialist first.

Then there is the issue of a doctor spending an allotted amount of time with a patient because they must meet strict billing requirements with their respective government or health authority. So, a patient may inadvertently be pushed out the door without having enough time to discuss their health issues or concerns with their doctor.

Things have also deteriorated regarding admissions to hospital for surgery. When I was five or six years old, I spent three days in the hospital following a hernia operation before being released.

Today, a child or other patient is more likely to be sent home right after their surgeries in order to free up hospital beds. While I agree that some routine, elective surgeries allow for this kind of scheduling, why should the patient be discharged this fast, considering they might suffer some complications, or worse, and require re-admittance because they were pushed out too early.

There is one group of patients that should be made aware of the financial burden they place on health care – smokers. It’s outrageous to see someone smoking and know that they will likely require surgeries, radiation treatment and/or chemotherapy, oxygen supplies and medications, hospital stays and specialist care at some point in their lives. That’s one place where health care delivery can be improved, which brings individual responsibility to the fore.

Returning to my earlier arguments, health care reform isn’t necessarily the answer to dealing with our rationed health care system.

It requires starting with a clean sheet of paper and allowing – yes, allowing – private health care providers to take over some delivery of services where it makes sense to do so.

As for shortages of doctors, nurses and other health care professionals, we need to entice more young people into this career track, especially in rural areas.

But the first thing to do is accept that our health care model is not working and that what we really have is rationed health care, which must end.


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