Health Council of Canada closes its doors for good.

March 24, 2014

The following is an excerpt from: http://www.longwoods.com/content/23705

On March 31, 2014, the Health Council of Canada will close its doors for good. The council was established in the 2003 health accord, and the 10 years of its existence have been both progressive and tumultuous, not unlike the ups and downs of Canada’s healthcare systems more generally. Whether or not you agree with the decision to close the council, or whether you care, there is a need to assess what will be lost.

The Romanow Report provided the rationale for establishing a council, but making that vision a reality presented numerous challenges. Trying to critique yet not displease provincial and territorial masters, along with a federal health ministry that footed the bill for the council’s operations, required an ongoing balancing act that on some days did not tip the way we would have liked.

….this past September, the council produced a comprehensive report that examined the performance of Canada’s health system over the past decade and found the results to be less than optimal. While no great surprise to the council, the report received considerable coverage because, as we suspect, most Canadians believe the rhetoric that Canada has one of the best healthcare systems in the world. The evidence shows otherwise.

Without the council, will another agency or agencies take up the role? Will these agencies have the necessary legitimacy to hold governments to account on their health reform agendas? Can any agency be successful in this position?

The demise of the council leaves a particularly large gap in the debate about equity in healthcare. There is no cohesive Canadian healthcare system: it is a collection of often significantly different provincial, territorial and even regional systems.
….there is greater potential for increasing disparities and inequities in terms of access and quality of care across jurisdictions. As its last piece of advice, our council strongly encouraged the federal government to recommit itself to working with the provinces and territories so that the national interest in healthcare is not lost.

Accountability for healthcare system performance may not be top of mind for all Canadians, but it should be. In the absence of the Health Council of Canada or a clear successor agency, we believe an objective voice for both Canadians and their governments will be lost. This situation needs to be addressed if governments collectively want to ensure public confidence in the measures they are taking to reform the system, and they should welcome the opportunity to be held accountable.

Will Canadians miss the council? We don’t know. But there should at least be some wonder why governments let it close.

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