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Government & policy

Federal budget pumps $400 million into Infoway

OTTAWA – The federal government’s 2007-2008 budget, delivered earlier this month by Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, contains proposals to increase funding for Canada Health Infoway, for a Patient Wait Times Guarantee Trust, and for the Canadian Institute for Health Information. Nova Scotia became the first province to announce initiatives to take advantage of the new funding.

The Canada Health Transfer will provide $21.3 billion in 2007–08, or $1.2 billion over payments made in 2006–07, to support provincial and territorial health delivery. This will continue to grow by 6 percent annually to reach $30.3 billion in 2013–14, according to the Finance Department.

In addition to these transfers, Budget 2007 proposes to directly invest in the following:

• Canada Health Infoway: An additional $400 million for Canada Health Infoway to support provincial and territorial development of electronic health records that will reduce wait times, reduce the risk of medical errors and lead to better outcomes.

• CIHI: A $22-million-per-year increase to help the Canadian Institute for Health Information build on its reputation as a leader in providing timely, accurate and comparable health information that supports improved health delivery outcomes.

• Patient Wait Times Guarantee Trust: To support jurisdictions that made commitments to patient wait times guarantees prior to the end of March 2007, Budget 2007 sets aside up to $612 million to be used to help accelerate the implementation of patient wait times guarantees. $500 million will be allocated on a per capita basis, and funding for eligible provinces and territories will be paid into a third-party trust.

Those eligible provinces and territories will also be provided base funding of $10 million per province and $4 million per territory through the trust to move forward with patient wait-times guarantees.

This funding will be available to those provinces and territories that have publicly outlined their plans to implement a patient wait-times guarantee in at least one of the five priority areas where evidence-based benchmarks for medically acceptable wait times are being developed, namely cancer treatment, heart procedures, diagnostic imaging, joint replacement and sight restoration.

• Patient Wait Times Guarantee Pilots: It is also important to test patient wait-times guarantees in order to generate information on how best to accelerate their implementation and advance overall progress.

A one-time patient wait-times guarantee pilot project fund of $30 million, to be spent over three years, will be established by Health Canada to assist provinces and territories in undertaking innovative projects that will support the implementation of their patient wait times guarantees.

• Cancer of the cervix: $300 million in per capita funding for provinces and territories to support the launch of a national human papilloma virus vaccine program to protect women against cancer of the cervix.

• Mental health: $10 million over the next two years, and $15 million per year thereafter, for the establishment of a Canadian Mental Health Commission.

• Medic Alert: $2 million in one-time funding to support the Canadian Medic Alert Foundation’s goal of implementing its No Child Without program in all elementary schools in Canada. This will ensure that children who need Medic Alert bracelets will get them.

• CIHI: A $22-million-per-year increase to help the Canadian Institute for Health Information build on its reputation as a world leader in providing timely, accurate and comparable health information that supports improved health delivery outcomes.

Nova Scotia first to announce initiatives

First off the blocks in taking advantage of the new money for reducing wait times was the province of Nova Scotia. Earlier this week, Federal Health Minister Tony Clement and Nova Scotia Health Minister Chris d’Entremont announced that Nova Scotia has agreed to establish a Patient Wait Times Guarantee in radiation therapy for cancer by 2010, to be supported by $24.2 million in federal Budget 2007 funding.

Nova Scotia will also be eligible to benefit from the $400 million in new funding for Canada Health Infoway, and the $30 million for pilot projects as announced in Budget 2007.

According to a Health Canada news release, Nova Scotia is well positioned to receive up to $48 million over the next three years for the implementation of the Patient Wait Times Guarantees.

“This is a historic moment for healthcare in Canada to have Nova Scotia as the first province to work with Canada’s new government and announce a Patient Wait Times Guarantee,” said Minister Clement. “For the first time, Nova Scotians will be guaranteed timely healthcare access in the area of cancer radiation therapy. We congratulate Nova Scotia for its leadership in taking this step, and guaranteeing patient care.”

In addition to cancer radiation therapy, Nova Scotia will also implement two pilot projects. The first will seek ways to improve efficiencies in diagnostic imaging. And the second one will be to develop an electronic patient portal system/centralized wait list for Nova Scotians awaiting hip and knee replacement surgery across the province.

Background: Diagnostic Imaging Project
Diagnostic imaging services are a critical and frequently time-consuming juncture in a patient’s care journey. Nova Scotia’s “Improving Access to Diagnostic Imaging Services” project will help primary care physicians order the best diagnostic test for their patients, using appropriateness guidelines developed by the Canadian Association of Radiologists. It will also improve efficiencies in diagnostic imaging and support patient choice on where and when they receive care.

Background: Orthopaedic Services Project
Long waits for orthopaedic surgery are a significant concern for Nova Scotians. The orthopaedic services project will develop an electronic patient portal system supported by a provincial surgical care network and surgical registry. A centralized waiting list across the five surgical centres providing orthopaedic services in the province could allow for the provision of options to patients as to where and when they receive care.