Improving health of Canadians the focus in wide-ranging health talks

Thursday, January 21 2016

VANCOUVER - In a wide-ranging set of discussions touching on many aspects of Canadians' health and health care, provincial and territorial health ministers committed to continued cooperation and collaboration across the country during a meeting today in Vancouver.

"My colleagues and I looked at the challenges and opportunities faced by provinces and territories in delivering health services across the country. We know we need to work closely together as we continue to improve our systems," said B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake, who chaired the meeting. "We look forward to our discussions with federal Health Minister Dr. Jane Philpott tomorrow, as we build a new relationship between governments for the benefit of the country's health-care systems and Canadians."

The provinces and territories discussed a new way forward on health care in Canada. The ministers agree that Canadians expect their governments to work together when it comes to health care, within their areas of responsibility, and with flexibility to address the challenges unique to each province and territory. This will be discussed during tomorrow's meeting, including how a long-term federal funding agreement, of at least 25% of all health care spending by provinces and territories, would help support investments in innovation and transformation of health care systems, to improve outcomes for patients.

Many of today's discussions furthered work which began out of the previous meeting of provincial and territorial ministers of health and wellness in September 2014.


Expensive drugs for rare diseases, also known as orphan drugs, are used to treat life-threatening, chronic and seriously debilitating rare diseases. The cost of these medications continues to put significant pressure on health spending. The ministers affirm that strong, long-term solutions are needed to address the ongoing challenges.

A working group led by B.C., Alberta and Ontario studied the issue of expensive drugs for rare diseases, looking at issues of access, evidence of effectiveness, communication with doctors and patients, and pricing. Ministers have agreed to work toward more consistent assessments of drugs and coverage decisions, and a fair pricing strategy. They will discuss the issue of expensive drugs for rare diseases again at the next health ministers meeting in the fall.

Québec is always committed to work with the provinces and territories to address the challenges of the rising cost of medications, but Québec only participates in this initiative by sharing information and best practices, since coverage decisions remain its sole responsibility.

Ministers also agreed to set up a working group to improve equitable and appropriate access to pharmaceuticals based on evidence and will also be inviting the federal government to participate.

Newborn screening

The health ministers discussed the work of an intergovernmental working group struck to improve newborn screening practices (blood tests done shortly after birth) in Canada. Early detection can prevent serious health problems and save lives.

The ministers also received a Canadian newborn screening list to provide guidance for screening programs. Ministers directed staff to continue working together to improve this type of screening, focusing on access, equity, and sharing information.

Québec is not participating in this initiative and will review its program by March 2016, with the goal of enhancement. Québec will then share results of this review with the other provinces and territories.

Physician-Assisted Dying

The provincial and territorial health ministers discussed the work of the provincial/territorial expert advisory group on physician-assisted dying, as well as Québec's law and approach regarding physician-assisted dying. The ministers expressed their thanks to the members of the advisory group for their timely and detailed advice, and acknowledged collaboration between the provinces and territories, as well as the federal government, is fundamental in approaching this issue.

Mental health and substance use

The health ministers discussed the importance of improving care for young people outgrowing child and youth mental health and substance use services, as they move into the adult systems. A working group, established at the 2014 ministers' meeting, developed a compendium of best practices for improving service integration for youth and young adults. It includes a review of published research and a scan of existing provincial and territorial programs, to identify the most effective services and approaches, particularly for rural and remote communities. At their next meeting, ministers will take an in-depth look at successful projects throughout the country, to consider as models for program improvements in their own jurisdictions.

Access to primary health care


Improving access to primary care in the community, from family doctors, nurse practitioners and other health professionals, is a common challenge faced by all provinces and territories. Health ministers discussed this challenge and innovations being developed in various provinces and territories. The ministers agree to share information about successful innovation in this area, and to set up a working group to collaborate where possible to support each other's efforts.

Indigenous health and wellness

Ministers recognize the challenges regarding the health status of Indigenous Canadians as a significant issue across Canada. They discussed how to best work with Indigenous people to address their health concerns, and the role of governments to work together and with Indigenous partners.

Medicare in Canada: The Next 50 Years

To commemorate 2016 as the 50th anniversary of the introduction of the Medical Care Act, Ontario Health Minister Dr. Eric Hoskins has proposed to host a symposium entitled Medicare in Canada: The Next 50 Years and has invited other jurisdictions to participate, including the federal government.

Interprovincial Health Coverage

The provinces and territories are committed to continuing to work together to ensure Canadians have access to appropriate health services when they travel within the country.

The ministers discussed the current approach to interprovincial health care coverage and agreed to review the current coverage agreements.

Ministers look forward to productive discussions with Dr. Philpott tomorrow on areas such as physician-assisted dying, Indigenous health and wellness, access and affordability of pharmaceuticals, and a new way forward for health care, including the federal government's commitment to negotiate a new Health Accord and a long-term agreement on funding.

Following the meeting Ontario will assume the role of chair of the provincial and territorial health ministers and co-chair of the federal, provincial and territorial health ministers.

B.C. Ministry of Health Media Relations
250 952-1887 (media line)

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