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B.C. health minister Dix ‘delighted’ premiers finally set to meet PM on funding

Provinces want feds to increase share of health-care spending to 35 per cent from 22
B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix pauses while responding to questions during a news conference with his provincial counterparts after the first of two days of meetings, in Vancouver on Nov. 7, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

British Columbia’s health minister says he’s “delighted” Canada’s premiers are set to meet with the prime minister early next month to discuss a potential deal to increase federal health funding.

Adrian Dix says the premiers had long been asking to meet Justin Trudeau as they call on Ottawa to boost its contributions through the Canada Health Transfer.

The premiers have demanded the federal government increase its share of health-care spending to 35 per cent from 22 per cent, with no strings attached, while Ottawa has insisted the funds must come with accountability measures.

Asked whether B.C. is open to measures aimed at ensuring funding is used to directly improve care, Dix told reporters B.C. is “meeting the test” as it undertakes “massive” reforms in primary care.

Dix says a “major impediment” has been overcome simply by agreeing to sitting down at the Feb. 7 talks in Ottawa, as the premiers had been asking to meet for two years.

The prime minister said Wednesday no deals would be signed at the meeting, and it would rather be about “starting the very direct hard work of the bilateral arrangements that will happen with every province.”

While provinces and territories are responsible for health-care delivery, Ottawa provides a transfer to cover some of the costs. In 2022-23, that transfer totalled $45 billion, an increase of more than 40 per cent in the last eight years.

The current funding formula ensures the annual Canada Health Transfer goes up at least three per cent a year, and more if Canada’s economic growth is outpacing that amount. It increased 4.8 per cent between 2021-22 and 2022-23, and it’s currently set to rise nine per cent, to $49 billion, next year.

Estimates suggest that increasing federal funding to 35 per cent of health spending in 2022-23, as the premiers want, would require close to $30 billion in additional transfers, though Trudeau has never committed to hitting that target.

Dix told a news conference that “massive and transformative actions” required in B.C.’s health-care system are taking place, but the province needs the federal government’s help in order for the changes to be sustainable over the long term.

His remarks came Friday after announcing $30 million to support measures aimed at improving health services throughout northern Vancouver Island.

The funds will be used to support enhancing staff recruitment and retention incentives, such as travel-wage increases and improved accommodation for health workers travelling to different communities throughout the region, he says.

The province is also launching mobile computed tomography or CT diagnostic services, he says, cutting down on travel time for patients across the north island.

Island Health is establishing daily shuttle services between hospitals in Port Hardy and Port McNeill, as well as shuttles to Campbell River and the Comox Valley.

Dix says the health authority is also adding new round-the-clock mental health and substance use services, including additional sobering and assessment centre beds.

Island Health president Kathy MacNeil says people need to know when services are available and when they’re not. In order to increase certainty and prevent unexpected closures as the new measures roll out, she says the Port Hardy and Cormorant Island emergency departments will be closed overnight.

For now, emergency department services will be available from 7 a.m. until 5 p.m. every day in Port Hardy and from 8 a.m. until 7 p.m. on Cormorant Island.

Dix and MacNeil say regular hours will be restored as soon as possible.

The department in Port McNeill is to remain open around the clock.