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Paramedics transfer patients to the emergency room triage but have no choice but to leave them in the hallway due to an at capacity emergency room at the Humber River Hospital during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Jan. 25.The Canadian Press

Seven in 10 Canadians say access to health care has worsened compared to before the pandemic, according to a new Nanos Research survey conducted for the Globe and Mail.

Survey respondents also gave Canada’s health care system a failing grade overall, a finding that should be taken seriously by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the provincial and territorial premiers, said Nanos Research founder Nik Nanos.

“The survey shows that average Canadians believe that there is a massive problem with our health care system,” said Mr. Nanos, who is also the company’s chief data scientist. “Canadians give our health care system a failing mark – a 3.8 out of 10. A score like that means you should be going back to the drawing board and rethinking everything.”

The survey included a question that asked respondents to rank the state of Canada’s health care on a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 being an absolute crisis and 10 is working very well. The results found 45 per cent provided a score of between 0 and 3, while 41 per cent ranked the system between 4 and 6. Only 14 per cent gave marks of 7 and above. The average score was 3.8.

It also asked respondents to state, based on their own personal experience, whether access to health care has improved, worsened or is about the same as it was before the pandemic. Only 2 per cent said it had improved. Seventy per cent said it had worsened, 25 per cent said it was about the same and three per cent were unsure.

The Nanos survey results are in line with the alarms being sounded of late by health care experts across the country as emergency rooms impose temporary shutdowns and many hospitals are expressing concern about low staffing levels for doctors and nurses.

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The Prime Minister recently repeated his government’s pledge to provide additional funding to the provinces for health care, but he has not given a timeline, nor has a first ministers meeting with the provincial and territorial premiers been scheduled. Quebec is currently in the middle of a provincial election, while Alberta’s governing United Conservative Party is in the midst of selecting a new leader, who would become premier.

Rather than meeting the premiers as a group, Mr. Trudeau has been touring the country and meeting some premiers individually for discussions that have included health care.

The polling results show there are no winners in the political blame game currently playing out between Ottawa and the provinces. When asked which level of government they trust most to find solutions to Canada’s health care system, the most popular response, at 38 per cent, was that neither is trusted. The 27 per cent who said they trusted the provincial governments was essentially tied with the 26 per cent who said they trusted the federal government. A further nine per cent said they were unsure.

“What this poll suggests is that perhaps we’ve hit a tipping point, where for some Canadians – and this is a result of the pandemic – but they basically have thrown up their hands and said: ‘Enough is enough,’” said Mr. Nanos. ”We’ve been talking about health care for a generation … but it’s not getting better. Access is not getting better and there’s also a lack of trust in governments to find the solution.”

The hybrid phone and online random survey of 1,073 Canadian adults was conducted between Aug. 27-29 and is accurate to plus or minus three percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

The regional results, which have a higher margin of error due to smaller sample sizes, show Atlantic Canadians, at 78 per cent, were most likely to say access had worsened. Quebec respondents, at 66 per cent, were the least likely.

Federal health care transfers increase automatically each year based on a formula tied to growth in nominal GDP. Because nominal GDP includes inflation, the current period of high inflation will automatically lead to higher than planned health transfers.

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The premiers have long called on Ottawa to increase its share of total government health care costs from 22 per cent to 35 per cent, which would work out to about an extra $27-billion per year. The federal government has said it is willing to increase funding above the status quo, but wants provinces to put the money toward specific areas, including hiring and keeping health workers; increasing access to primary care; long-term care and home care; mental health and substance use and improved digital health and virtual care.

The premiers’ position has been that increased federal health funding should not come with restrictions on how it spent.

When presented with the negotiating positions of Ottawa and the provinces, poll respondents were split, with 44 per cent saying they support the provincial government position and 43 per cent saying they support the federal government’s position. Respondents in Atlantic Canada and Ontario were more likely to support the federal position, while the rest of the country sided with the provinces. The biggest difference was in Quebec, where 61 per cent sided with the provincial position and only 27 per cent agreed with the federal government.

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