Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be here today to express support for Bill C-277, an act providing for the development of a framework on palliative care in Canada.
Our government believes that Bill C-277 provides us with a timely opportunity to take a leadership role on this issue. I would also like to recognize the efforts of the member for Sarnia—Lambton, who had the class and the elegance to send flowers to the minister with whom I feel fortunate to work. I would like to return the favour. I think she did an excellent job on this issue and has put forward a very thoughtful proposal. I sincerely congratulate her.
I also want to congratulate the members who served on the Standing Committee on Health and who studied this bill with a great deal of attention and care.
Our government understands that palliative care is a critically important part of our health care system, providing much needed support to patients and their families at one of the most difficult times of their lives. We also know that Canadians overwhelmingly support a palliative approach to care at the end of life.
Still, studies have reported that as few as 16% to 30% of Canadians have access to palliative care, depending on where they live in Canada.
There is no question that we must improve palliative and end of life care so that Canadians, irrespective of where they live, have access to timely, high-quality care at the end of their lives. If we are going to be successful in achieving this goal, however, it is paramount that the federal government collaborate with the provinces and territories and draw on the considerable expertise that key stakeholders, health care providers, and caregivers have to offer.
I would now like to take this opportunity to speak to some of the amendments made by the Standing Committee on Health, which I believe strengthen the bill.
The Standing Committee on Health received a number of briefs from key stakeholders on Bill C-277, including the Canadian Society of Palliative Care Physicians of Canada, the Canadian Cancer Society, the Canadian Nurses Association, and Pallium Canada. All of these organizations expressed strong support for the implementation of a federal framework on palliative care. However, they also indicated that a significant amount of work had already been done and should be leveraged in the development of any federal framework on palliative care.
For example, most provincial and territorial governments already have a palliative care strategy, plan or framework in place to support palliative care. Several of the briefs submitted to the committee also identified the Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association’s “The Way Forward: Towards Community-Integrated Hospice Palliative Care in Canada” as a key resource that could be built upon.
Funded by Health Canada, “The Way Forward” Framework was developed through an extensive consultation process with health care providers, experts, key stakeholders and all levels of government. It provides guidance, best practices, and other resources to help communities and organizations adopt a palliative approach across all settings of care.
Organizations across Canada, including the Government of Alberta, the Canadian Home Care Association, the Canadian Nurses Association, the Canadian Medical Association, have used the framework to guide their efforts to implement an integrated palliative care approach.
I was pleased that the members of the Standing Committee on Health acknowledged this significant body of work and that it will be studied when developing any future framework.
A number of stakeholders also expressed their support for the priority areas identified in the framework, including palliative care education and training, support for care providers, and data collection and research. Each of these elements is widely understood to be essential in improving access to high-quality palliative care services by patients and their families.
Our government has been very clear in expressing its support on these issues. For example, the government has provided $3 million in funding to Pallium Canada to support training in palliative care to front-line health care providers. This initiative has developed a range of educational materials, trained trainers, and facilitated sessions to increase the palliative care capacity of health care providers.
We also recognize the critical role that unpaid caregivers play in the care of so many Canadians.
As announced in budget 2017, the introduction of the new Canada caregiver credit and a new EI caregiving benefit will provide additional support to Canadians caring for critically ill or injured family members.
Supporting the development of a solid evidence base has also been a clear priority for our government. Through the government's research funding arm, the Canadian Frailty Network centre of excellence is receiving $23.9 million in support over the next five years to facilitate evidence-based research, knowledge sharing, and clinical practices that improve health care outcomes for frail older Canadians, their families, and caregivers. It is my sincere hope that these foundational investments can be leveraged to guide future work in this area.
Our government is also committed to working co-operatively with provincial and territorial governments to improve the quality and availability of palliative care for Canadians.
While the federal government can provide leadership through the implementation of a framework to help support and unify efforts to make positive change, it is the provinces and territories that have primary responsibility for the delivery of health care services, including palliative care.
When first introduced in the House, Bill C-277 called on the Minister of Health to develop and implement a framework designed to give Canadians access to palliative care provided through hospitals, home care, long-term care facilities, and residential hospices. The bill is significantly strengthened by the changes made at committee to indicate that the federal framework on palliative care developed through Bill C-277 would support improved access to these services by Canadians. While the federal government is well positioned to complement and bolster the important work under way across the country by provincial and territorial governments, this wording better reflects the constitutional realities of the Canadian health care system, as it is the provinces that deliver the services on a daily basis.
The amended bill being considered by the House today no longer requires an evaluation of “the advisability of amending the Canada Health Act to include palliative care services provided through home care, long-term care facilitates and residential hospices”.
While this would no doubt highlight the importance of palliative care within the health care system, I would agree with the briefs sent to the Standing Committee on Health by the Canadian Nursing Association and the Canadian Society of Palliative Care Physicians, expressing concern over potential amendments to the Canada Health Act as part of this bill.
Given the complexity of the Canada Health Act, there is a real risk that this measure would lead to lengthy delays in the implementation of the framework, when more immediate action is needed. That is definitely not our objective, nor that of the member for Sarnia—Lambton, I am sure.
These organizations also expressed concern that the review on the state of palliative care, as prescribed by section 4 of this bill, may not necessarily result in increased access to community and home-based palliative care services, services for which Canadians have expressed the greatest support.
With these considerations in mind, the removal of this point will focus attention to where it is most needed, the development of a framework which would support provinces, territories, and stakeholders in their front-line efforts to improve palliative care.
I would like to thank the House for the opportunity to reflect on some of the important changes that were made to Bill C-277, which I believe significantly strengthen the proposed framework.
I will conclude as I started by thanking the member for Sarnia—Lambton for putting forward such a well-considered proposal, and offer my support and the government's support for the amended bill currently before the House.