An expert report that recommended a more active role by Ottawa in health-care innovation, and was quietly buried by the former Conservative government, is enjoying a second life under a new health minister who says she is a "huge fan."
The $700,000 report from the Advisory Panel on Healthcare Innovation, led by David Naylor, a former president of the University of Toronto who was dean of its medical school, is back on the table as health ministers from across the country gather in Vancouver this week to begin discussions on a new health accord.
Among the report's recommendations was a call for the federal government to play a stronger role in encouraging health-care innovation. That includes setting up a $1-billion fund to foster innovation under an arm's-length agency.
Dr. Naylor's report was released without fanfare by the former federal government on a Friday afternoon in July, shortly before the election writ was dropped. The expert panel opted to go beyond the mandate given by the Conservatives and take a broad view of how to improve Canada's health-care system. One of its key findings was that Canadian health care is losing ground relative to other industrialized nations and is doing a poor job of expanding successful pilot projects.
At the time, Dr. Naylor predicted his "zombie report" might crawl out of the grave one day, noting that "governments come and go" and politicians change their minds.
Liberal Health Minister Jane Philpott said she has met with Dr. Naylor and his report will be part of the discussions this week.
"I am a huge fan of the Naylor report," she said in an interview. "They have some fantastic ideas."
This week's meeting of provincial, territorial and federal health ministers, which begins Wednesday, is expected to set the stage for a year of intense discussion on the future of federal health transfers and the delivery of health care across the country.
The existing health accord expires in 2017, and details of a new transfer deal aren't expected to be reached until next year, although health ministers are already staking out their positions.
The year-long discussions are expected to centre on four major themes, Ontario officials say, with the work of Dr. Naylor's panel informing discussions on innovation.
The other themes are access to prescription drugs, community care and mental health, and improving indigenous health, starting with access to clean drinking water, said an Ontario official who asked not to be identified.
Ontario will take over as chair of the provincial and territorial meetings after this week, and Health Minister Eric Hoskins said Monday he would like to spend time discussing the content of a new health deal before debating how to pay for it.
"Ontario's position is that we should focus on what we want to see in the accord," he said.
Dr. Naylor said members of the expert panel were careful in writing the report to respect provincial and territorial responsibilities and to get the support of groups in the medical community. For that reason, he said he is not surprised the report is being considered, describing it as a "safe harbour" to begin what are likely to be difficult discussions.
"It's gratifying the report is not sitting on the shelf," Dr. Naylor said in an interview Monday.
He said his advice to the health ministers meeting this week is to take action on the things they can agree on and make progress on together, while they work toward a bigger accord.
"There is a huge amount that can be done without having a big umbrella agreement," Dr. Naylor said. "It is a very good moment for us to take smaller steps to build momentum. We desperately need momentum for change in health care."