Liberals face growing calls to deliver on $4.5 billion campaign promise for mental health transfer – National


The Trudeau government is facing mounting pressure to act urgently on its campaign promise to create a new $4.5 billion transfer for mental health — a promise that has stalled despite critical shortcomings in the care that contributes to the emergency room crisis in Canada.

In an open letter to federal Mental Health and Addictions Minister Carolyn Bennett, 65 national health associations that represent and advocate for patients, doctors, nurses and mental health specialists are calling on Ottawa to go immediately moving forward with this platform commitment.

« Canada stands at a critical juncture in a growing health care crisis, and we have serious concerns that the postponement of the Canada Mental Health Transfer will only exacerbate long-standing issues, » the letter to Bennett said.

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As of March 2022, fewer than one in three Canadians with mental health issues were accessing care, according to results from a 12-month Leger survey commissioned by the Canadian Center on Substance Use and Addiction and Mental Health Commission of Canada.

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The survey also found nearly a third of Canadians have reported moderate to severe mental health issues since the pandemic began in 2020.

Additionally, about 25% of Canadians who use alcohol or cannabis reported problematic use, but only one in four could access addictions services, the survey found.

Canada’s mental health and addictions treatment system was ‘broken’ even before COVID-19, and pandemic anxieties and national gaps in care have only made matters worse, says Sarah Kennell , national director of public policy at the Canadian Mental Health Association.

“We are facing increased levels of very serious mental illnesses and truly preventable mental health issues that – if we invest in care before a crisis – can be addressed,” Kennell said.

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Meanwhile, patients who need immediate mental health or addiction treatment have no choice but to go to the emergency room.

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But for months, the ER has been collapsing under the pressure of nationwide staffing shortages, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic as well as an increase in the number of patients who are not accessing care. primary and, therefore, present with more advanced diseases. .

This has led to a cascade of temporary emergency room closures and ambulance diversions across the country and calls from exhausted doctors, nurses and paramedics for urgent action to stabilize the healthcare system.

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Despite this, no money for the promised new Canada Mental Health Transfer was allocated in this year’s budget, including an initial $875 million that was supposed to have already been spent or budgeted, according to the platform. the Liberal Party’s 2021 electoral figure.

In a statement to Global News, Bennett’s office says the government remains committed to establishing a permanent Canada Mental Health Transfer, but early engagement with partners and community organizations has shown that this new funding « must build transparency and responsibility”.

« The Minister will continue to work with provinces and territories to inform the design of the new Canada Mental Health Transfer, as well as a comprehensive evidence-based plan with shared data on indicators and outcomes, » the statement read. .

As part of this work, Ottawa aims to set national standards for mental health and addictions services across the country – work that is not expected to be completed until March 2023.

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Kennell says the development of national standards should not block progress toward advancing mental health transfer. Both efforts can be mounted simultaneously, she said – a sentiment also shared by the 65 national health organizations pushing for more immediate action on this promised transfer.

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“It is unacceptable that we have further delayed the launch of this pledge due to the standard development process,” Kennell said.

“Canadians need mental health and addictions health care now, not a year from now. And we need to see that investment flow in as soon as possible. »

The debate over blocking action on that transfer also sparked emotional discussion in the House of Commons on Thursday night.

Conservative mental health critic Todd Doherty has shared a story from his own childhood detailing the physical abuse he and his brothers endured, including an incident in which his brother’s hand was forcibly placed on a stove burner as a punishment.

“I could hear the sound of his flesh burning. Oddly, I don’t remember him crying or screaming, maybe because our screams drowned out his,’ Doherty told the House of Commons, tears streaming down his face.

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Her brother has since struggled with drug addiction, Doherty said. He shared this story for the first time publicly because he says he wanted to break the stigma of talking about the real impacts of mental health and addictions on families across Canada, including his own.

“I know far too many Canadians fall through the cracks,” Doherty said.

“What we are doing is simply not enough. Applying a bandage does not help.

NDP mental health and harm reduction critic Gord Johns, whose call for an emergency debate on mental health led to Thursday’s four-hour discussion of the issue in the Commons, said MPs were united in their message that more needed to be done.

It means the political will is there, the government just needs to act with a greater sense of urgency, Johns said.

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« Here we are, 14 months after an election, and they’re just starting to have these conversations with the provinces (about the transfer), » he said.

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“It’s not a priority. I mean, the stigma is really clear when it comes to mental health and addiction that it’s not a priority of this government.

Now, as Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland warns of ‘tough days ahead’ amid fears of a possible recession, Johns says she is even more concerned about fiscal tightening which could further delay progress on promised spending on mental health and addictions.

The growing storm of financial uncertainty will only increase the number of Canadians who need mental health care, he said.

If more urgent action is not taken, Canada’s already overburdened ERs will bear the brunt of the fallout, he added.

« People have nowhere to turn right now except crowded emergency rooms and we need to make sure we do the right thing and the government keeps its promise. »


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