Canada needs an independent health czar to co-ordinate the country’s response to the swine flu pandemic, the Canadian Medical Association Journal said Monday.
In an editorial signed by editor-in-chief Dr. Paul Hebert, the journal called for the appointment of someone who would serve as an independent “national champion” with the necessary legislative powers to be able to facilitate the response across provincial and territorial boundaries.
The position would have different — and broader — powers than those of the current federal point person for pandemic response, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. David Butler-Jones.
“That’s definitely not David’s job. I mean, it could be. But it’s not set up that way. And arguably that’s the issue,” Hebert said in an interview.
The publication of the editorial coincided with the start of the annual meeting of the Canadian Medical Association, held this year in Saskatoon. The pandemic is among the hot topics being discussed at the meeting.
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.
Hebert said that while governments have done a lot of pandemic planning, the early experience with the new virus shows there are holes that need fixing.
As well, there’s a potential for problems that could arise as a consequence of the fact that health-care delivery is a provincial and territorial responsibility, Hebert suggested, noting Butler-Jones’ authority relates strictly to public health and doesn’t cross into delivery of health care.
“He cannot cross a provincial (power) boundary, except with just making guidelines,” Hebert said, offering an example of how the lack of anyone with the power to address health-care delivery problems in a pandemic might be problematic.
“Let’s say Province A, B and C don’t do what they’re supposed to. … who can force them to do it? Well, no one,” he explained.
Dr. Andre Corriveau, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, disagreed with the proposal, saying he saw no need at present for such a position.
“We already have a chief public health officer in Canada, and also we are working collaboratively in Canada,” Corriveau said Monday.
Hebert said the health czar should convene a summit to link public health officials, critical care staff, first responders and other decision makers and community planners to ensure actions taken will work in practice.