Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be here today to address Bill C-277, an act providing for the development of a framework on palliative care in Canada and to discuss our government's commitment to improving palliative and end of life care for all Canadians.
This bill comes at the right time in our national dialogue on palliative care, and I would like to recognize the efforts of the member for Sarnia—Lambton in moving this discussion forward.
I had the opportunity to review this legislation with my seniors council in Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam at our last meeting. I want to thank the members for their input and for helping me better understand just how important it is for this bill to proceed.
Our government knows that the quality and availability of palliative care is an issue of great importance to Canadians. A Harris/Decima survey found that more than 90% of Canadians believe that palliative care improves the quality of life for both patients and their family members. Studies have shown that patients who receive palliative care services are happier, more mobile, and, in some cases, live longer than patients who do not.
The recent legislation on medical assistance in dying has amplified the public conversation on options for care at the end of life. While medical assistance in dying is only one potential option at the end of life, experiences in other countries suggest that only a fraction will seek it.
It seems that many Canadians who could benefit from palliative care do not receive it. For example, Health Quality Ontario found that two in five Ontarians had not received palliative care services at the end of life in 2015.
Palliative care is a priority for our government, and I support the creation of a framework to guide our work. I was pleased to see the amendments made by the Standing Committee on Health so that the framework takes a more targeted and integrated approach and builds upon the important work already under way to improve palliative and end of life care in Canada.
There is a wide range of promising initiatives established in provinces and territories as well as in stakeholder organizations in the health care sector. These initiatives touch upon many of the elements put forth in this bill, including identifying training and education needs for health care providers and other caregivers, providing supports for care providers, facilitating access to care, and promoting research and data collection.
The federal government recognizes the advantages of and the growing need for palliative care and has funded a series of strategic initiatives in order to establish key fundamental approaches and to address key issues.
For example, the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer, an independent national cancer organization funded by the government, has convened a group of palliative care experts from across the country to create the palliative and end of life care initiative. The network includes representatives from every province and territory, officials from provincial ministries of health, representatives from both professional medical organizations and patient advocacy groups, and patient and family representatives.
Through this venue for national conversations, the palliative and end of life care initiative is working to improve coordinated support for patients and families through the education of health professionals, patients, and caregivers. The network is also increasing access to evidence-based, integrated, high-quality palliative care services that align with patient preferences.
Apart from the network, the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer has also funded a series of studies focused on the experience of palliative care from the patient and family perspective. This patient-centred approach focuses on the importance of early and ongoing assessments of the expressed wishes of the patient and family for symptom management and quality of life. The Canadian Partnership Against Cancer has been expanding the visibility of its work by distributing its findings widely so as to bring this evidence to the broader health care community. By emphasizing the centrality of the patient and family, the Canadian health care system can provide end-of-life care that is responsive to patient needs and provide an improved experience for patients and families going through the most trying moments of their lives.
The Canadian Foundation for Healthcare Improvement is another national organization funded by our government to help identify proven health system innovations and accelerate their spread across Canada. In recent years, one of its priorities has been to evaluate and disseminate data on best practices with respect to palliative care services. The Canadian Foundation for Healthcare Improvement's programming in palliative and end-of-life care is well under way and focuses on identifying and validating high-impact innovations and practices ready to be spread and scaled up across the country. For example, in February it launched a pan-Canadian call for innovations to identify and validate high-impact palliative care models, practices, and tools. Projects identified as having the greatest potential impact will be featured at a forum of experts, decision-makers, and health administrators in June to discuss how these innovations can be scaled up and spread to other organizations and jurisdictions.
I would also like to highlight the important work being undertaken by Canadian researchers to understand the current status and potential of palliative care in Canada. Since 2011, the government has invested over $546 million with the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to support research on aging, including palliative care or related late-life issues. One area where the Canadian Institutes of Health Research is supporting a wide variety of research is through its team grants in late-life issues. In the past, these research projects have examined some of the most pressing issues on palliative care in Canada, including improving knowledge uptake across providers and institutions, appropriate protocols for transferring patients between different levels of care, and developing ways to measure the quality of patient experience.
Another example of CIHR research is the improving end-of-life care in first nations communities project. Led by Dr. Mary Lou Kelley from Lakehead University, this project was designed to improve the end-of-life care in four first nation communities through developing a culturally appropriate approach to palliative care. Providers in each of the communities chose a series of clinical, educational, or administrative interventions to build local capacity, with each activity being evaluated for its contribution to developing palliative care. The four communities created locally designed and controlled palliative care programs. This demonstrated the feasibility of providing local palliative care at home in first nation communities, the effectiveness of first nations community capacity, and the associated benefits of enabling among first nations people the choice to receive palliative care at home. Furthermore, the project produced a series of reports and resources for first nation communities and the government, with recommendations that will be critical for the improvement of palliative care in first nation communities and nationwide.
To build on this work, our government has now provided funding to work with Lakehead University to provide coaching and mentoring support to 24 first nation communities in Ontario who want to implement palliative care services within their community. The message is clear: Canadians want access to high-quality palliative care.
Based on these existing foundations and accomplishments, our government is poised to play an important role in helping Canadians receive the most appropriate, timely, and compassionate care at the end of their lives.
I am proud of the work our government has already supported in this area and the significant strides we have seen in the provinces and territories, as well as among stakeholders in the health care sector. I look forward to continuing to work toward improving access to quality palliative care services for all Canadians.
The member for Sarnia—Lambton should be commended for her work on this and for bringing this legislation forward. I also appreciate the work my seniors' council did to prepare me for this debate.