Question 1: Cancer Care and Health Care Services
According to a Leger Marketing poll, healthcare is the number one issue on the minds of Alberta voters. About one quarter of Albertans believe that healthcare is the most important issue facing Alberta today and almost four in ten will evaluate the parties’ position on healthcare when deciding who to vote for (Calgary Herald and Edmonton Journal, March 28, 2012).
- If elected, how will your government improve the delivery of cancer care and other healthcare services in Alberta?
The NDP appreciates your work to promote the very best standard of care, support, follow up services, and quality of life for patients and survivors.
As many experts point out, cancer is a complicated set of diseases and there is no one solution for everything. That said, the Alberta NDP would prioritize continued research about cancer, would invest heavily in community based health care and prevention, and would pay more attention to cancer survivorship and post-treatment follow-up.
To determine areas for improvement in care and to evaluate the effectiveness of cancer treatment, we must collect adequate information about wait times, treatment and transition and publicize these findings. Last year NDP leader Brian Mason pressured the health minister to release cancer surgery wait times between 2000-2007. The Conservatives hesitated to release the wait times for cancer surgery and it was only after repeated challenges that the government finally responded by striking a Health Quality Council investigation. The Conservatives have also failed to release the most recent AHS quarterly performance report, which is now overdue, as a way to see how well care is doing in other areas. This suggests that there has been little improvement in wait times and makes many people distrust the health care system.
An NDP government would publicize these findings in an effort to be more accountable and would reduce these wait times by immediately investing in improved care. We would improve care by hiring more doctors, more nurses, and building 1, 500 long term care beds to relieve pressure on the acute care system. The number of health professionals would be increased by working with nursing and medical schools to increase enrollment, by providing incentives for graduates to work in Alberta, and by improving the process so internationally educated professionals can work here. The process of planning and building new facilities including hospitals would be removed from political agendas and determined and made public based on clear objective criteria and known in time for proper planning.
Funding for such improved care can easily be paid both because there will be significant savings at the emergency and acute care end of the health system and more substantially because the NDP is proposing very small income tax increases for corporations and very wealthy individuals and a small increase in royalty rates for bitumen. Quality health care does not need to be threatened by talk of our system being too expensive. Such an investment will insure ensure patient, provider and health system readiness to take up innovative form of treatment, post-treatment follow-up and cancer survivorship care.
Lastly, the Alberta NDP would invest heavily in community-based education and preventative care. Many of the risk factors for cancer can be treated by working with communities and addressing the social determinants of health, such as nutritional eating and exercise to particular populations, safe housing and workplaces free of hazardous chemicals. The Alberta NDP would also use legislation to reduce such major risk factors as smoking (for example, by increasing the tax on cigarettes).
- Will your government continue to provide a publicly funded healthcare system or would it institute a private healthcare system? Please provide the rationale for your decision.
During this election the NDP is saying excellent public health care is the top priority and after the election, a bill to protect the public health care system would be the first bill for an NDP government. That commitment has been demonstrated as the NDP has led the work to protect and improve public health over the decades and the NDP stands by that commitment now.
All people with cancer should have access to the treatments and supplies they need, regardless of their income. However, over the years the number of medical services covered by medicare have been eroded and the number of private services offered have increased. The Conservative government’s encouragement of privatization in our province’s health system threatens eventually to make healthcare less accessible for people with lower incomes and quality of care may come to depend more on ability to pay. Alberta’s NDP opposes the delisting of services or any measure that will permit some to go ahead in the line if they are able to pay, and supports policy measures that ensure that all Albertans are getting the healthcare they need. The NDP will energetically be vigilant for evidence that health services in Alberta are not being delivered with full respect for all pillars of the Canada Health Act and will fight any moves to a system where quality of care in any way depends on ability to pay.
- How will your government restructure healthcare delivery in Alberta?
The Alberta NDP respects the recent report of the Health Quality Council that there has been too much unplanned change in the health system in recent years and would not immediately restructure the health boards because of the further disruption that this would cause to a health system that is already significantly challenged. The delivery of health care, however, would be more effective because the backlog in the system would be adequately addressed with the building of long term care facilities and the hiring of more health care professionals. As mentioned, an NDP government would also expand the healthcare system’s focus on preventative care and medicine to help Albertans avoid health problems or complications before they begin. This would be delivered in greater partnership with communities. Over the longer term the NDP believes the Alberta Health Services should be disbanded and the department of Health and Wellness be directly responsible for both policy and delivery of health services but that regional advisory boards with elected representatives are needed. Commitments to better funded home care services will also help with service delivery and reduce both emergency department visits and the
need for acute care treatment.
- How will your government improve services for lymphedema following cancer treatment?
Secondary lymphedema needs to be addressed with proactive efforts to increase awareness of lymphedema and mitigate the risks. The Alberta NDP would work with experts to offer better self management techniques and would ensure that treatments such as massage, exercise plans, compression bandages and all other assisted devices are fully covered by medicare.
Question 2: Drug Approval
On average between 2004-2010, Alberta has approved for public reimbursement 17.7% of the 306 new drugs approved by Health Canada, compared to the cross-country provincial average for the same period of 23.44% (Access Delayed, Access Denied: Waiting for New Medicines in Canada, Mark Rovere and Brett J. Skinner, Studies in Health Policy, April 2012, The Fraser Institute).
If elected, will your government commit to increasing the number of new cancer and other drugs approved for public reimbursement so that all Albertans have timely access to the drugs they need, and if so, how will this be accomplished?
The Alberta NDP would speed the regulatory process for new cancer drugs and would adequately fund them so that all Albertans have access, regardless of their income. Critical to this effort is the protection of the public system of health care. Two tier systems, with both a public and a private option, erode the quality of care in the public system by reducing funds directed towards it and by expecting the other sector to care for the needs of the population. In fact, the quality and accessibility of care is known to be compromised by a two tier system. Critics blame Britain’s low cancer survival rate on the two tier system and the central institute that determines which treatments should be publicly covered. For a short time neither private nor public insurance would cover Herpecin because of its high costs, although it is a drug known for its ability to help cure early-stage breast cancer treatment. It was only after two British women sued for access to the $44,000 a year treatment that it was granted by the public system.
The Alberta NDP would protect the public health care system and would ensure that the approval process of new drugs is at or above the national average. We would also lower prescription drug prices by establishing the Alberta Pharmaceutical Savings Agency to oversee the bulk purchase of medications sold at pharmacies and used by AHS. Finally, we would implement a prescription drug strategy to use less expensive generic drugs when they are proven to offer equal health outcomes to the more expensive option. The Alberta NDP would ensure that all avenues are explored to get the patient back to a meaningful, fulfilled life.