Our health-care system is more or less always in some kind of low-grade crisis.
There is always a doctors shortage, or a nursing shortage, or overcrowding in ERs, or long waits for hip and knee surgeries.
It’s frankly impossible for any system this massive, and this vital, to work perfectly at all times, so there will always be some kind of problem in need of a fix.
This time feels different.
When ERs in parts of B.C., especially in the north, are closing their doors to patients because there simply aren’t any doctors or nurses left who can come in to staff them, that’s a crisis on a whole other level.
The lack of fundamental reform in the way we deliver health care, and the way we educate and recruit health-care workers, has long been at the heart of our ongoing mini-crises.
Now COVID, and a population that is simultaneously growing and aging rapidly, are exposing the areas where multiple previous governments have simply slapped on Band-Aid solutions.
Previous mini-reforms might have fixed individual problems. But none of them dealt with the wider issues of a system that is understaffed and overworked.
The fact that our health-care system is free and accessible to all, unlike the U.S. system, is often held up as a kind of shield against criticism.
The choice is seen as a binary one – the Canadian socialized system that benefits all, or the American system that lets the poor fall through the cracks while giving gold-plated medical services to the rich.
But that’s a false binary. There are always going to be some people who would advocate for having a U.S.-style system – after all, it allows a few people to make giant piles of money – but we are under no obligation to go down that road.
We can undertake major reforms and experiments with how we deliver health care, entirely within the framework of providing universal care.
And we will have to, because what we’re doing now isn’t working.
There are hints of new and better approaches – urgent care centres, faster accreditation for doctors from overseas, the possibility of putting family GPs on salary – but so far those approaches have been piecemeal or have not been pushed with sufficient vigour.
These and other ideas, including those from the people working in the current system, from patients, from outside experts, from other countries, can help us restructure and get through this emergency, and beyond.
It’s not enough to fix this crisis. We need to find better ways of delivering universal health care to all British Columbians from now on.