Monday, August 17, 2009

Call for "health czar" to deal with H1N1

The Canadian Medical Association Journal goes on record in calling for a health czar to deal with H1N1, "Preparing for pandemic (H1N1) 2009." We need an independent, "national champion," says the journal who were correct in their previous assessments of the Harper government's failings on the listeriosis crisis last summer.
To start, national leadership is needed in all countries. A visible independent health care czar, with executive powers across all jurisdictions and who is ultimately accountable to the highest office in the country, must be in place. Then, local leaders must be identified. All stakeholders should have clear communication with and rapid access to experts. We need leaders at all levels who will work together quickly and collaboratively to solve problems such as moving equipment and personnel from one area of a country to another as required without barriers imposed by licensing, hospital privileges and malpractice insurances concerns.
This is not a time for complacency. The health czar and other national leaders should immediately convene a summit to link public health officials, the critical care community, first responders, other health care providers, decision-makers, community planners and the public, to communicate next steps and to ensure that actions taken by leaders will work at the ground level. While we still hope for the best, we need to act now to deal with the worst that pandemic (H1N1) 2009 may deliver. Doing so will save lives.
All sounds very compelling and credible, worth reading. What did our Minister of Health Leona Aglukkaq have to say then? Surely she would have some words of acknowledgement or interest in such views?
Federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq addressed the group Monday. But she refused to answer questions about the CMAJ's call for a health czar after her speech, brushing past reporters on her way out of the hall.
Guess not. I'm sure she'll get back to us. Such calls for prioritization of important health care issues are uncomfortable for the Harper government, after all, they have taken steps like this that have weakened national response efforts:
Following the 2003 SARS epidemic and subsequent recommendations of the National Advisory Committee on SARS and Public Health,7 the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) was created and given its own minister in government — a direct line to the prime minister. But in 2006, among Prime Minister Stephen Harper's first acts was to eliminate the PHAC minister and public health's seat at the Cabinet table. His government also left the chief medical officer of health within the ranks of the civil service, working under the minister of health. In so doing, it left our country without a national independent voice to speak out on public health issues, including providing visible leadership during this crisis.
Quite the move that was...

Update (8:25 p.m.): Also making news, the lack of H1N1 planning detail in Aglukkaq's speech to the doctors today.