By Dr. Ann Collins
2020 will go down in the books as the Year of Sacrifice. While the COVID-19 pandemic has upended our lives in almost every way, for health care workers in particular, the challenges to how we work and how we live have been unparalleled.
Yet somehow, this battle against the virus continues. As I write this, COVID-19 cases across Canada are soaring — averaging 4,000 new cases and 50 deaths per day. Numbers are higher than at the height of the first wave of the pandemic, with governments scrambling to control the spike.
We knew for months that a second and potentially more deadly wave was coming. As we head into winter, we’re seeing these predictions play out in real time. Communities like Nunavut that were previously COVID-19 free are now grappling with outbreaks. The Atlantic bubble, which appeared to shield those provinces from the virus, has broken. COVID-19 continues to be a threat in every province and territory.
It is distressing. But I strongly believe we can bring cases under control if we have a political leadership that prioritizes health expertise and proper support for front-line workers, and a commitment from Canadians to do their part to prevent infection.
As winter takes hold and people spend more time indoors, we need to work twice as hard to contain the spread. Everyone is growing tired of the restrictions affecting all our lives — physical distancing, cancelling normal activities and limiting interactions with loved ones. Yet we can’t let Canadians succumb to this widespread fatigue.
This threat is what keeps me up at night — that the public and policy makers will let down their defences when front-line health care workers have had so little reprieve. The sacrifices you’ve made to keep others healthy cannot be overlooked or underestimated.
What also cannot be overlooked are the weaknesses in our health care system.
The pandemic has added thousands more Canadians to wait lists for surgeries, and it will take significant action to reduce these wait times. According to an October report commissioned by the Canadian Medical Association, it will cost at least $1.3 billion to return wait lists for six common procedures — collectively amounting to 80 per cent of diagnostic and surgical care — to pre-pandemic levels.
We also know that how we care for seniors must be redesigned. We need to implement pan-Canadian long-term care standards to prevent COVID-19 from continuing to ravage long-term care facilities.
At the same time, this pandemic has brought new solutions to light. Virtual care has been quickly adopted and is now playing a much greater role in how we deliver care. And patients are getting onboard. Earlier this year, the CMA commissioned a survey showing a high satisfaction rate among patients who accessed virtual care. In fact, almost half of the Canadians surveyed said moving forward, they would prefer that the first point of contact with a doctor be virtual. And we’ve only tapped the surface of what can be done in this area.
Other positives could eventually emerge. Right now, there’s an incredible burden weighing on our collective shoulders as we consider what our country will look like on the other side of this pandemic. But we will pull through, and we can rebuild a stronger health care system. I take comfort in knowing that one day we will remember this as a time when we made superhuman efforts to take care of each other. We are still in this together.
Dr. Ann Collins is president of the Canadian Medical Association