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HealthCareCAN president and chief executive officer Paul-Émile Cloutier said Canadians are looking to their political leaders for urgent action on the health care system's woes.Chad Hipolito/The Globe and Mail

Associations representing Canada’s doctors, nurses and health organizations have issued a list of measures governments can take to stabilize the country’s strained health care system, including creating a pan-Canadian licensing model to enable health professionals to work anywhere in the country.

The Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Nurses Association and HealthCareCAN, an association that represents health organizations and hospitals, jointly issued their “prescription for hope” on Friday, in advance of a meeting of Canada’s federal, provincial and territorial health ministers in Vancouver next week.

HealthCareCAN president and chief executive officer Paul-Émile Cloutier said Canadians are looking to their political leaders for urgent action.

“The gathering of the nation’s health ministers next week in Vancouver is a critical opportunity to demonstrate leadership, bring forward strategic action and chart a collaborative course to build a system that works for providers, patients and Canada,” he said in a statement.

The meeting is the first in-person gathering since the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated long-standing pressures in the health care system, which is now near collapse. Millions of Canadians are without family doctors, emergency departments are closing because of staffing shortages, and health care workers are reporting unprecedented levels of stress and burnout.

But Alika Lafontaine, who was appointed the new president of the Canadian Medical Association in August, said he will attend the meeting with optimism.

“The excitement that I have around this is that we have a real opportunity for structural change within the system,” he said in an interview on Thursday. “We have had a system of 13 separate jurisdictions creating their own siloed solutions, and that’s what’s brought us to this crisis. … Shared solutions are a part of the way forward, so I’m very hopeful that the conversations will advance as a result of the meeting.”

For internationally educated health professionals, government could create a centralized system of credentialing and licensing, Dr. Lafontaine said. It could also create pathways for foreign health care professionals to participate in the medical system in other ways, such as working as physician assistants.

Other steps include investing in physical and digital infrastructure to facilitate integrated care, and providing retention incentives, reducing administrative burden and strengthening mental-health supports for health care workers.

On Monday, British Columbia announced that it was overhauling the way it pays family doctors with a new model that will factor in overhead costs, administrative burden and time spent with patients. It will also allow for gradually building out “team-based care,” connecting doctors with more support staff and allied health care professionals.

Dr. Lafontaine said he is optimistic about the change, which reflects reprioritization of what is valued in health care.

“We are going to iterate our way towards a new way of providing care, and having these conversations, and reassigning what we think is important within the system, is a really important aspect of testing out what will work in the end,” he said. “I do think that B.C. is definitely on a path to achieve something different.”

In July, a meeting of Canada’s premiers centred on health care concluded with no resolution, only finger-pointing over funding. The provincial and territorial leaders accused the federal government of not paying its fair share of health care costs; Ottawa countered that it would only increase its share of funding if jurisdictions maintained and increased their own, and that Canadians would need accountability in how that money is spent.

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