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The Globe and Mail

Ottawa wants accountability from provinces in new health deal: health minister

Leona Aglukkaq, Minister of Health, speaking in Toronto on March 10, 2011.

Peter Power/The Globe and Mail/Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq says Ottawa will work with the provinces and territories to renew the $41-billion health accord with emphasis on accountability and putting patients first.

A patient-centred approach with improved reporting will help transform the health-care system as the population ages, Ms. Aglukkaq told a meeting Monday of the Canadian Medical Association.

She stressed that governments and doctors have a leading role to play.

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"Although we are still in our planning stages, I can tell you that we will be working collaboratively with the provinces and the territories to renew the accord," Ms. Aglukkaq said. "And there will be a clear emphasis on accountability.

"This way, Canadians will be able to know that we are achieving real results in improving the system."

New Democrat and Liberal health critics at the meeting swiftly pounced on her comments, saying Ms. Aglukkaq offered no detail on what accountability will mean. They also noted that the minister offered no timeline for when federal-provincial talks on a new health deal may begin.

The 10-year federal-provincial funding accord reached under former prime minister Paul Martin expires in 2014. Touted as a deal to transform health-care, problems persist in a fractured, unwieldy system that has been criticized for a shortage of countrywide reporting and performance benchmarks.

Critics point out that lofty talk of national home care and pharmaceutical programs that could ease pressure on hospitals and save millions in redundant drug spending has amounted to little more than that — talk.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper promised during the spring election campaign to maintain yearly federal escalator funding of six per cent a year until at least 2016, but has said little beyond that. His Conservative government has also tended to stress that health care is primarily a provincial and territorial responsibility.

Ms. Aglukkaq said Monday that doctors can also help lead changes that are needed as provinces struggle with burgeoning health care costs.

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"Part of the way you do this is by continuing to put your patients first," Ms. Aglukkaq told almost 300 delegates at the meeting in St. John's, N.L.

"And I know for many of you, this is a core value that guides everything from your daily operations to developing broader management strategies. A patient-centred approach will lead to better value in health care and better outcomes for Canadians."

Ms. Aglukkaq also announced a new national research strategy to improve funding for clinical trials and countrywide sharing of results. But there was little detail on funding amounts or how the effort will play out.

During a question and answer session after her speech, Ms. Aglukkaq said the federal government remains committed to the Canada Health Act and its principles of publicly administered, universal, accessible, portable and comprehensive health care.

Still, Ms. Aglukkaq stressed that funding negotiations with the province must include ways to better manage the health care system.

"We want accountability and we want results."

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