Canadians believe the health care system has failed on its promise to deliver universal, timely and high-quality health care.

Across Canada, we are all feeling the gaps in primary care right now, and our health charities are on the front lines helping to fill that gap.

In one of the largest, most comprehensive surveys ever conducted on Canadians’ views on the health care system, Primary Care Needs Our Care is the report we needed our policy-makers to see.  

Dr. Kiran and her team brought together thousands of people to speak with one voice about their vision for a more equitable primary care system in Canada. Together, they uncovered the issues that have been exasperating our health care system for decades and developed the OurCare Standard – what every person living in Canada should expect of their primary care system.

In the report, primary care is referred to as the “front door” to the health care system and when people don’t have access, everything else falls apart. People turn to walk-in clinics or emergency departments to receive care and “unfortunately, these settings often cannot meet their needs…they are designed for quick visits focused on a new, urgent problem and aren’t designed to provide ongoing follow up” says Dr. Kiran. Countries with a good primary care system have “healthier populations, better health equity and lower health care costs” she continued.

We know from working with our charity partners that family doctors often don’t have the time to educate someone newly diagnosed with a chronic condition like diabetes or multiple sclerosis, let alone to provide them the day-to-day support and advice to live with it. This problem is only compounded if patients are being seen in walk-in clinic settings or through emergency departments. Increasingly, this vital education and support role is being played by health charities, who are also heavily under resourced.  

Here are some statistics from the OurCare report that highlight the urgent need for primary care reform in Canada:  

  • More than one in five (6 million) people do not have a family doctor or nurse practitioner.
  • Of those who had a primary care provider, only 35% could book a same or next-day appointment for an urgent issue.
  • Nearly three quarters of participants (73%) agreed that teams of primary care providers should have to accept as a patient any person who lives in the neighborhood of office.

Here are just some of the actionable steps OurCare recommends:

  • Reducing barriers to licensing and practice for internationally trained primary care clinicians.
  • Investing in virtual care options integrated with in-person care.
  • Legislating requirements for electronic health record interoperability.
  • Establishing systems for patient and public engagement and oversight to ensure everyone receives care from a primary care system that is accountable to the communities it serves.

HealthPartners’ supports these recommendations and as a coalition of national patient organizations, we are dedicated to practicing and promoting fulsome patient engagement in healthcare systems. We know all too well that the system is not serving people the way it should but with government leadership, it could be.

To me, there is no question that, as the report says, we are at a crossroads. “If we continue on the same path of patchwork reform, things will no doubt get worse…it won’t result in the meaningful transformation that is needed to ensure every person in Canada has the care they need, now and for generations to come.”

We need to care for our primary care providers, and we need to support our health charities as they fill in the gaps but who are also experiencing an ever-increasing demand for services while facing an unprecedented claw back in donations and grants.

I encourage everyone to read this important report and I hope that policy makers will take these recommendations seriously for the health and safety of our people.   

Read the report here: Primary Care Needs Our Care