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Health ministers' summit wraps without major breakthrough

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A two-day summit with the country’s health ministers has concluded without a major breakthrough in addressing the health-care crisis, and B.C. remains the only province with a bilateral agreement for hundreds of millions in new federal funding. https://www.ctvnews.ca/politics/b-c-first-province-to-sign-individual-health-deal-with-feds-worth-1-2-billion-1.6595430

Minister Mark Holland, who was appointed to the health portfolio by Justin Trudeau just two months ago, downplayed the lack of progress with the other provinces insisting “it’s taking so long because we have to get this right,” and tried to present a positive, united front to the country.

“We need to work together for solutions,” he said, gesturing to the assembled ministers and touting a collaborative atmosphere. “Nothing short of the transformation of our health system can be our overall objective and I think there's enormous room for optimism.”

PEI Health Minister Mark McLane, who was hosting the meetings in Charlottetown, acknowledged the acute doctor shortage in his province was eroding some of the progress they’ve made with team-based, multi-expert “patient medical homes.”

“We all understand money won't fix everything in health care,” he told reporters. “We're all experiencing significant population growth in all our jurisdictions, so it is a challenge in providing health care.” 

The five-point focus of the meetings saw retention of nurses, training, improvements to credentialing of foreign-trained doctors, enhanced labour mobility, and workforce data at the top of the minsters’ to-do list.

B.C.'s Adrian Dix insisted the province is already making good progress on many of those issues, particularly bringing on internationally trained medical graduates with twice as many as last year in the system.

“We are recruiting most effectively by the reforms (we are) making in our healthcare system,” he said. “The change in the way we pay doctors, the change in the way we fund and support primary care has been a huge attraction to doctors to go into primary care, to go into family practice.”

The BC College of Physicians and Surgeons has been providing conflicting information on that front. On Sept. 22, Executive Director Corinne De Bruin addressed doctors in a public presentation, and told them that they "are seeing a net decrease in the number of registrations of family physicians.” 

Dix disputed that statistic and when CTV News contacted the college for clarification they claimed that the numbers “can fluctuate” depending on when statistics are pulled. They now say since March, they’ve had “272 new registrations in the full-family class – a 3.82 per cent increase from 2022.”

The inconsistency has done little to instill confidence in frontline health-care workers and highlights Holland’s insistence that standardization of workforce data is important “to make sure that we know exactly who we need in the future and to make sure we’ve got the plan to have the workforce we need to meet the challenges of the future.”

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