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B.C. reps eye agency nurses, family doctors as top issues at health ministers' summit

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A day after British Columbia became the first province to sign a deal for ramped-up health-care funding from the federal government, local representatives have already started laying out their priorities for the country's health ministers at a summit to discuss the nationwide crisis. 

The BC Nurses’ Union has already met with the federal health minister and chief nursing officer along with colleagues from other provinces. Tomorrow the union will join with the nation’s doctors to make a presentation on the state of the system to the provincial ministers and deputy ministers at the summit in Charlottetown, P.E.I.

“Access to care of family medicine, access to care in our emergency departments, long wait lists, and lack of access to that team-based model of care (are priorities),” said Canadian Medical Association president Dr. Kathleen Ross. 

The Port Coquitlam physician went straight from a shift delivering babies at Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster on Thanksgiving Monday to attending the meetings in Atlantic Canada, and said while she’s not expecting a big policy announcement or shift in approach, she’d like to see the best ideas from across the country adopted and replicated. 

“Shamelessly stealing is absolutely on the table,” said Ross, who sees family medicine as a top priority in the talks.

“Primary care is the foundation, the bedrock of any high-functioning health-care system, and quite honestly, across Canada, it's struggling right now.”

The president of the BC Nurses’ Union was encouraged by the dialogue they’ve already had with the new federal health minister, Mark Holland, who’s been on the job for just a couple of months, but has already established a good working relationship with nurses.

“It's early days, but he certainly, from my perspective, seems very committed to making improvements in health care and for nurses specifically,” said Adrian Gear.

The top priority for nurses’ representatives is highlighting the costs and issues around for-profit staffing agencies, which are widely described as taking advantage of critical personnel shortages in health care by providing workers at steep mark-ups. That’s now prompting increasing scrutiny and calls for review

“Hopefully many of the health ministers will agree that there's a better way to spend taxpayer dollars,” said Gear. “If you're able to spend that kind of money paying for private nurses, why can't we invest on better recruitment and retention strategies for nurses that are currently in the system?” 

On Thursday, the provincial ministers and their federal counterpart are expected to hold a news conference summarizing their discussions and any progress made. 

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