Learning From COVID to Build a Better Health System

The failures of health care during COVID mustn’t be for naught. The devastating cracks in Canadian healthcare are a roadmap to a better health system.

For some, Canadian healthcare sounds pretty good – it’s a universal publicly funded system, after all.  But this doesn’t mean it’s without problems, and this became abundantly clear during the pandemic.

While a healthcare crisis is sure to present challenges, the truth is that COVID did not create the cracks in the Canadian system so much as reveal them.

Our systemic failure to protect the vulnerable in long term care settings was heartbreakingly apparent, as was our struggle to provide adequate hospital beds and medical personnel – but we should not have been surprised, given that Canada lags significantly behind other countries in these resources per capita.[1]

Canada also ranks very low compared to other countries in terms of technology, with far fewer MRI scanners, CT scanners and radiotherapy equipment per capita.[2]

Perhaps most shocking of all, Canada ranks a stunning 18th out of 20 comparable countries when it comes to access to new medicines.  In general, it takes Canadians two and a half years to receive a new medicine after it is approved elsewhere in the world.  That’s more than a year after countries like Sweden and Switzerland, and almost two years after Germany, the UK and Japan.[3]

It might surprise you to know that this time lag is not related to ensuring the medicines are safe and effective.  As we learned during COVID, these factors do not need to be compromised when streamlining the process of ensuring a medicine (or a vaccine) is available to the people depending on it.  In fact, during COVID, Canada stepped up as a world leader in approving vaccinations and in getting them to Canadians in record time while using innovative ways to do so.

Why then can’t we learn from the models we developed during COVID and aim higher for our healthcare system with the goal of delivering better, faster, and more efficient care?  The current process related to the approval and reimbursement of new medicines has opportunities for streamlining.  It’s a matter of ensuring that government policy makes this happen.

In a recent survey of CARP members, there was near unanimity that innovative treatments should be available to Canadians at the same time as in other major countries and that using the model for COVID vaccines and treatments would be a good way to achieve that. Doing so would impact the people in our lives in real and tangible ways.  Think of those you know who might benefit from a proven treatment for a disease such as cancer or dementia.

“We can’t afford to wait any more for fundamental changes to our health system to ensure Canadians have fast access to quality care and treatments,” said Bill VanGorder, Chief Operating Officer and Chief Policy Officer of CARP “History demonstrates that major disasters can help inspire and drive change. We now have a unique opportunity to make the new investments and embrace the new technologies required to build the system Canadians want, need, and deserve.”

We all need to do our part to make this happen. To learn more and take action, visit carp.ca/AimHigherForHealth.



[1] OECD Data: https://data.oecd.org/healtheqt/hospital-beds.htm#indicator-chart

[2] OECD Data, https://data.oecd.org/healtheqt/computed-tomography-ct-scanners.htm#indicator-chart