Letters to the editor: Reasonable Canada Health Act

The Canada Health Act contains a legislative requirement for government to provide “reasonable access” to health care for all residents (CBC News 11/18/21).

Given the turmoil of travel and increased demand for health care, aging population, stretched fiscal resources, compounded anxiety and worry of seeking specialized care, and the distance and economics involved in travel, a case may be made that the present state of health care in the western and northern region of the province may be in violation of the Canada Health Act.

Administrative malpractice may also come into play with a concentration of specialized treatment services in one provincial location knowing full well that individuals in need of care are thrown into a spiral of difficult financial and personal choices on travel and accommodations. Heaven forbid if tragic circumstances are such that an individual’s health concerns, because of wait times, distance and accommodations involved in seeking care, advances to a point not bothering to seek help or delaying medical care until it is too late. Under the Canada Health Act it is a priority to ensure a “reasonable access” to health care for all within the province.

What is reasonable? During the last provincial election campaign concern was raised within the western region for advanced diagnostic screening without having to travel to St. John’s utilizing a PET scan. Currently, there is just one machine in the province located in St. John’s. The impression – in a hastily arranged political news conference on the site of the newly constructed hospital facility in Corner Brook – was that such a service was not a reasonable expectation for western & northern residents. Travel to St. John’s was to be expected.

Outside of a pool of money committed for future consideration, nothing towards acquiring the service of a PET scan has changed since the election. Is this the new reality? Has health care planning become a narrow inside the Avalon focus? Will this approach prevail for other specialized medical services?

Western and northern residents are thankful for planned radiation treatment access at the new hospital in Corner Brook. However, there is a need for more.

Specialists currently working within Western Health need more support. This new facility can be on the cutting edge of new technologies to attract medical graduates in specialized fields. The opening of this new regional facility, avoiding unnecessary expenses of accommodation and travel for those seeking medical care, is not an unreasonable expectation under the Canada Health Act. The new hospital must be a facility beyond bricks and mortar. Current specialist services needed to be expanded.

Is it reasonable for travel from PAB to regional medical supports in Stephenville and Corner Brook? Some would argue it is not reasonable, for there are alternatives and opportunities using advances in technology to expand services in our own facility in PAB. On this point there is full agreement. There is more that can be done locally in all NL medical facilities.

However, there is a case that can be strongly put forward – although not perfect by any means – to reasonably travel within the region covered by Western Health. There are currently excellent opportunities provided by Western Health for specialized services supported by diagnostic ultrasound, CT scans and MRI. Given consideration, such a distance is covered by many residents on a regular basis for other non-medical services such as shopping, vehicle service and recreation events, travel for medical reasons may be considered reasonable under the Canada Health Act.

Is it reasonable to be expected to travel to avail of health care facilities outside of the west coast in central locations such as Grand Falls or St. John’s? Grand Falls is a six hour drive away. St. John’s is ten hours. This is totally unreasonable and fails the same test in relation to seeking other services such as shopping, vehicle maintenance and recreation. A new element, that of expensive overnight accommodations, higher fuel and meal costs must be taken into consideration that weigh heavy against central services so far removed from our region.

With the physical structure of the new regional Western Heath facility in Corner Brook now dominating the skyline high above the hills overlooking the Humber Valley, the time is right for the province, Western Health and communities to collaboratively work towards a community health model to ensure services found in Corner Brook, and other facilities at Stephenville and Port Aux Basques, will be in line with what is ‘reasonable access’ under the Canada Health Act.

It is more than doable. It is a right under the Canada Health Act.


John Spencer
Port aux Basques, NL

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