Madam Speaker, it is really a privilege and an honour to be able to speak this evening to the main estimates on health. I have been involved in the health committee since I have been a member, which is a short time, but I have come to understand some of the problems and complexities of the system from being involved in it quite a while before that.
I am really taken by what I am hearing this evening, particularly from the Minister of Health with regard to the state of the health of our country. When I really assess what is going on in health, a very rosy picture is being painted, but clearly all is not well in the state of our health care in Canada.
Almost every day we can pick up a news report that shows disturbing problems that are happening. Some of them were just mentioned by the hon. member: mad cow disease, problems with our food inspection agency and the fears we have about some of our food.
Almost every day we can pick up something that will give us an example of the problems. Yesterday there was a report dealing with orthopedics and arthritis care. The average waiting time for hip and knee replacement surgeries in this country is six months, while some must wait well over a year. In fact I had a lady in my office yesterday, who is well known by many of the members in this place, who has been waiting for a year for knee surgery and now has to wait another 15 months.
All is not well. The reason for some of the shortages is that there is an obvious shortage of manpower in this area. One hundred and fifty orthopedic surgeons are required to supply the need that we have today, and that is without taking into account the demographics of our society. It takes 10 years to train a new orthopedic surgeon, so we can understand the dilemma that we are in and that it has not happened overnight. We are in serious problems with regard to human resources in health care.
I was a little alarmed when the minister suggested that all we needed to do was to put a few more dollars into health research and that would attract the best and the brightest minds to our health care system which would sustain the system over the long haul. I do believe that is true and I do not think Canadians are buying that as well.
Increasingly, Canadians are wondering if the medicare system will be there for them when they really need it. These hard questions are being asked about the long term sustainability of the system. We talked about some of the problems: the long waiting lists, the shortage of doctors and nurses and the obsolete equipment. We talked about the numbers of dollars that are going into the equipment, $500 million up to April 1 and then another $500 million.
When I talk to radiologists they say that none of this equipment is getting into their hospitals. They are using equipment that has to be taped up with duct tape. I have farmed for many years and I know the value of a good roll of duct tape, but I do not believe that it should be used on our medical equipment. They are telling me that they have to move switches up and down repeatedly before some of the archaic equipment can be turned on. Third world countries will not even accept some of this stuff.
Suggesting that we do not have a problem and that we do not have a crisis is putting our heads in the sand.
Dr. Peter Barrett, the outgoing president of the Canadian Medical Association, stated:
The serious problems facing medicare today can be labelled a health care crisis. For patients waiting for health care services, it is a personal crisis. Doctors and nurses on the front lines know it is a crisis.
It will increasingly become more of a crisis as the weight of the demographic age of the baby boomers hits the system.
As I said earlier, this did not happen overnight. The removal of the dollars in the mid-nineties has caused major problems that are now coming to bear upon a system that has been neglected for far too long. It is time we paid some attention to this because our health care system is about to pay the price for some of that neglect.
The problems with the federal government's overall leadership and the funding of health care in the country are mirrored by a number of problems within Health Canada itself. A more direct subject of debate could be added, as several problems within Health Canada have come to light just in the time that I have been in parliament or as more light has recently been shed on the problems.
Health Canada has mismanaged funding with regard to the Inuit. Aboriginal people are repeatedly highlighted in the auditor general's report. There are problems with the Virginia Fontaine Addictions Foundation that raise serious questions. We have raised this in the House. There are many problems with overprescription of drugs within our aboriginal communities, overprescriptions from which people have died.
The health minister talked about drugs. Many problems have also arisen from the diet drug Prepulsid. There was the Vanessa Young inquest. Sixty-nine recommendations came out of that inquest. The minister suggested in the House that he would implement all of them. It is definitely an acknowledgement that we have a problem in the system when every one of the recommendations will be looked at or implemented. That is what he said, so obviously there is a problem related to drugs and the process within Health Canada itself.
I could go on with a number of problems but I do not have much time so I will move on to another area of federal incompetence. It has to do with the compensation for hepatitis C victims. We know about the tainted blood. Members mentioned it earlier. We know that it is a major problem. We know that almost 50% of the money is left over and yet there are thousands of patients who were infected and who have not been able to access the funding for hepatitis C victims. They really need that funding.
However, we need to look beyond the problems. The hon. member across the way suggested that there are some problems but that solutions are what is needed. I would like to ask him and the entire House to start thinking outside the box when it comes to health care, because arguably we have some very serious problems. Just the introduction of the Romanow report is an acknowledgement that hopefully we will start to think about some of the solutions.
First let us talk about accountability within the system. If I asked Canadians who they think is looking after the dollars in the health care system now they could not tell me. I am saying to Canadians right now that they could not tell me. It is not the politicians, I can tell Canadians that, and it is not the regional authorities in most of our provinces because I have been there. They deal with the health care dollars within their global budgets, or the funding formulas and access to them.
However, we have some blank cheques in the system and until we address them the system will never be able to sustain itself over the next 40 years because of the baby boomers and the technology that is coming along. I am saying that we need to look at the accountability of both users and providers within the system. We need to stop playing games with the health care dollars that are so precious and dear and that the taxpayers of the country work hard to earn.
It is very important that we acknowledge what we can do about accountability by having users and providers more accountable. I hope I get a question or two on that because I will not have time to explain it as I want to get on to my other idea, which is something that that I think is very imperative. We have talked about it since the 1970s but have just paid lip service to it. It is the area of health care prevention and promotion, because health is much more than health care. We have been crisis managing health care in the country for so many years that we have to absolutely stop doing it or we will never sustain it.
In the long run we have to think outside the box and start asking ourselves questions. When we have an epidemic of obese students within our educational system, why are we not talking to the educators of this country? Why are we not talking to them with regard to solving some of the problems that are going to hit the system because of that?
This was talked about with regard to the tobacco industry. We know that if we can stop teenagers from smoking, if we can stop them before the age of 20, we will win the battle against tobacco addiction. Why are we not talking to them?
We know that the number one reason we hospitalize people in this country is mental illness. Why are we not talking to industry and thinking outside the box?
In closing, I would like to say that we do have a problem in health care. We can come up with some solutions if we work together. I would offer my assistance in doing that.