Rapid Recap: 2023 Health Ministers’ Meeting
Thursday, October 12, 2023- Federal, provincial, and territorial (FPT) health ministers concluded their two-day meeting in P.E.I today. Yesterday’s agenda consisted of meetings between just the provinces and territories, followed by a second day of meetings that included participation from the federal Minister of Health, Mark Holland, and Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, Ya’ara Saks.
Was this meeting a success? Following a rocky year on health FPT relations, the objective for this meeting was to align health ministers to begin working together on shared health priorities. To achieve tangible outcomes, the federal government needed health ministers to endorse and generate more momentum for the pan-Canadian initiatives stemming from the February health funding agreement. At the same time, the meeting provided an opportunity for provincial and territorial ministers to show they are collaborating with Ottawa while seeking flexibility to implement needed changes in their jurisdiction and avoid one-size-fits all solutions. On this, governments likely feel the meeting was mutually successful.
Meeting Highlights & Outcomes
An FPT communique was issued at the end of today’s meeting, covering a number of key priorities including:
- Health Workforce – Retention, education and training; making sure internationally educated health professionals can get to work faster in Canada; advancing labour mobility; and strengthening health workforce data and planning were identified as top priorities.
- Digital Health and Health Data – Ministers approved a Joint FPT Action Plan on Health Data and Digital Health, which provides a path forward for working together over the coming years. The plan highlights the collection and sharing of high-quality and comparable depersonalized information; adopting common interoperability standards; promoting alignment between provincial and territorial health data policies and legislative frameworks; advancing common principles for the management of health data; and collecting and sharing public health data.
- Mental Health and Addictions – As Canada faces continued challenges related to mental health and addictions, including the overdose and addiction crisis, ministers responsible for mental health and addiction discussed new, innovative approaches and promised practices that are culturally appropriate. They also encouraged ongoing collaboration, and improved public awareness of mental health concerns while decreasing the stigma. Also highlighted was the 9-8-8: Suicide Crisis Helpline which will offer trauma-informed and culturally appropriate support 24 hours a day, which will be available across Canada on November 30, 2023.
- Public Health Priorities – Lessons learned from the pandemic highlighted the essential strengths of public health and health care systems, and exposed gaps that need to be resolved. The ministers committed to continue working together towards a sustainable and integrated approach to public health that will promote health, prevent disease and better protect Canadians against future public health threats.
The federal, provincial and territorial ministers also put out a statement supporting Canada’s health workforce specifically. In this statement, the minsters committed to a number of concrete actions including:
- Promoting the dissemination and implementation of the “Improving the Working Lives of Nurses in Canada” Toolkit this fall.
- Undertaking a study on the education and training supply and demand for key health care professions to identify the best pan-Canadian approaches to meet future health care demands for Canadians over the next decade.
- Reducing the time it takes to join the workforce by encouraging and facilitating internationally educated health professionals (IEHPs) to begin to undertake credentialing processes overseas and working with health regulators to strive to provide licensure to qualified physicians and nurses within 90 days. Also reiterating the commitment to the ethical international recruitment of IEHPs.
- Implementing a process that allows health professionals that are in good standing in one jurisdiction to practice in any other Canadian jurisdiction without significant delay or the need to meet additional regulatory requirements.
- Working together to improve the availability, sharing and standardization of health workforce data to improve planning in addition to supporting the establishment of the Centre of Excellence for the Future of the Health Workforce.
In addition to the statement and communique released today, provincial and territorial health ministers released an official communique yesterday indicating that they discussed a range of topics including primary care, mental health and addiction, health human resources challenges, public health priorities and next steps regarding digital health and health data. In round-table discussions, ministers shared information about innovations within their own jurisdictions for others to consider and adapt.
In contrast to last November’s health ministers meeting, which ended in disarray due to disagreement on health funding, the FPT ministers presented a united front, acknowledging the current challenges facing the system and highlighting collaboration on key priorities such as health human resources, digital health and mental health and substance use.
Most of the initiatives and commitments on health human resources and digital health discussed at the meeting were part of the February FPT health funding deal agreed to by premiers and the prime minister. A strong endorsement of these directions by FPT health ministers adds momentum to these initiatives.
By agreeing to meet with national health care provider associations and highlighting a broad range of health human resource initiatives, FPT health ministers demonstrated strong solidarity with health care providers at a time of crisis. However, they also pushed back on some initiatives they perceive to be counterproductive, including a proposal to lengthen training of family physicians from two to three years.
There was no specific update on the status of individual bilateral health agreements with the federal government, though it was noted that B.C. recently signed the first health funding agreement with the federal government and that others would follow suit in the near future. Additionally, while Quebec has not signed an agreement with the federal government, the province expects its share of federal health funding without conditions.
National pharmacare was not on the formal agenda for the meeting, but health ministers indicated at the press conference that they have made significant investments in pharmaceutical coverage, have been making improvements to their programs and are eager to hear more about the federal government’s plans. Earlier today, the Parliamentary Budget Officer released an updated estimate of the cost of single-payer pharmacare which concluded that a single-payer universal drug plan would cost federal and provincial governments an additional $11.2 billion in the first year and $13.4 billion in five years. Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland’s fall update is expected to show worsening projections for the federal deficits and debt over the coming years which would likely leave less fiscal room for new program spending.
Join Santis Health’s team of government relations experts on Tuesday, October 17, as they offer an in-depth analysis into the pan-Canadian political ecosystem, the recent gathering of Canada’s health ministers, the ongoing implementation of bilateral health agreements, plus new federal health legislation that could fundamentally impact the provinces and territories. Register for our Cross-Country Check-Up webinar here.