Healthcare Crisis

“Palliser hit by spending cut,” says the headline in the Medicine Hat News.

The News says that Alberta Government is cutting down spending in all areas by $1.26 billion. Each ministry was asked to make a one-per-cent cut to their spending. If your monthly expenditure is $100, then you can easily afford to spend one dollar less! It’s simple mathematics!

But is it that simple when it comes to health care?

How much is one life worth, anyway? How much money should we spend to prevent one death from coronary artery disease, breast cancer, prostate cancer, and colon cancer or motor vehicle accident? How much is ever going to be enough to maintain a good health care system for Albertans?

People are very sensitive to budget cuts. I have been a physician for 31 years, and have trained and worked in three continents. I cannot remember a single day when I have not heard somebody complain about the lack of funds in the health care system.

But somehow we are still here, complaining and still working. In general, people are healthier than they used to be. The average life span in industrialised nations is better than ever. And the amount of money we spend on prescription drugs and high tech equipment is enormous. We are envied by poor nations where people die daily of malnutrition and preventable diseases.

Then why are people always complaining? I guess because we want the best health care system in the world. We raise everybody’s expectations but fail to deliver because there isn’t enough money to go around.

Even the governments think there is something wrong. Otherwise, why would they have so many Royal Commissions to look into the workings of the health care system? Currently there are three national commissions scrutinizing our health care system. Not to mention many previous commissions appointed by Federal and Provincial Governments.

Does anybody know how much money we have spent on these commissions? May be we need one more commission (last one!) to summarise the recommendations of all these commissions.

Although the health care system is working we should not underestimate the serious problems that have always been present. And they are not going to go away. Here are couple of examples:

A recent Fraser Institute report on waiting list says, “In fact, the average wait across all 12 specialties and 10 provinces surveyed increased by 23.7 percent in the period surveyed, 1999 to 2000/01. Since 1993, that wait has risen by 69 percent.”

The Canadian Medical Association Journal says, “A survey conducted in five countries reveals that physicians around the globe are worried about the quality of care they can provide. More than half of physician respondents in Canada, New Zealand and the US, 48 percent in the United Kingdom and 38 percent in Australia said their ability to provide quality care had declined in the past five years, and most were not optimistic about what the future holds.”

These are just two examples of the frustrations we face in providing good care to our patients. Do you know of a solution that will keep everybody happy without investing more money in recruitment, prescription drugs and high tech equipment? Or in hundreds of other things health authorities do to keep the population healthy?

If yes, then there is a Noble prize waiting for you! As for me, I am glad I am getting old. I hope I will get to retire one day! But the scary part of old age is that it brings with it aches and pains and illnesses. I hope there will be enough doctors, nurses, technicians and hospital beds to take care of me if I need one. And I hope there will be enough water to keep the golf courses green! Then I can watch the new generation of health care workers, politicians and patients complain about the same thing over and over again!

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