Nova Scotia’s health minister is calling a new $1 billion health care funding bilateral agreement with the federal government a “great first step.”

On Thursday, the federal government and government of Nova Scotia announced an agreement in principle that includes $1 billion over 10 years to focus on “shared health care priorities.”

In a media release, the Department of Health and Wellness said the funds will help increase access to primary and mental health care, support health care workers, and adopt cutting-edge technology “to offer better, faster care.”

“I think it’s a great first step. We’re going to look for other opportunities to partner with the federal government to move initiatives forward,” Health and Wellness Minister Michelle Thompson told reporters in a video conference call Thursday afternoon.

“But for now, we are grateful and we look forward to using these funds to move action for health and our priorities forward.”

Thompson said the funding “will help” accelerate some initiatives. While she couldn’t immediately pinpoint which ones the department can move on this fiscal year as a result of the new funds, she did outline several priorities. In addition to mental health and addictions, she mentioned seniors and long-term care. She also referred to surgical wait times as a “significant” priority. 

A collaborative health plan

“I think when we look at our shared priorities, there are a number of things that we will continue to invest in. So we want to look at our workforce, obviously… We want not only to build our own workforce, but we want to retain the folks that are here,” Thompson told reporters.

“And looking at things like internationally educated graduates. We want to look at surgical backlogs, looking at innovative ways to collect and share our aggregate data in order to look at how we make decisions in a real time way around the health of populations.”

In a media release, Health Canada stated that as part of the agreement, the federal government will work with Nova Scotia on several initiatives.

By reaching an agreement in principle, Canada and Nova Scotia are committing to the plan laid out on February 7, 2023, which includes shared commitments to collect, use and share health information and to inform Canadians of their progress with key common headline indicators. Work will now begin on a bilateral agreement based on an initial 3-year action plan that will detail targets, timelines and additional common indicators related (to) shared health priorities in each jurisdiction.

As part of this collaborative health plan, Canada will work with Nova Scotia to streamline foreign credential recognition for internationally educated health professionals and advance labour mobility for key health professionals. Furthermore, Nova Scotia commits to an integrated, inclusive approach to investments in health service teams, the health workforce, and data and digital tools that will help to meet the health and mental health needs of Canadians.

Shared health care priorities

Noting that it’s not unusual for bilateral agreements to come with “some strings attached,” Thompson said the province will be using accountability metrics as outlined in its Action for Health plan.

“I don’t think accountability really is an issue at all. I think it’s very important and I don’t think accountability is something that’s unfamiliar to health care workers throughout our province,” she said. 

“We want to report not just back to the federal government, but to Nova Scotians as well about how we are making progress around Action for Health and our health priorities. The Action for Health website is an important tool for us to be able to report back to Nova Scotians, and we’ll have to wait for the details in the bilaterals to understand what exactly the reporting requirements are.”

The four shared health care priorities outlined in the agreement in principle between the federal government and province of Nova Scotia include:

•Access to high-quality family health services when they need them, no matter where they live

•A resilient and supported health care workforce that provides them high-quality, effective, and safe health care services

•Access to timely, equitable and quality mental health, substance use and addictions services

•Access to their own electronic health information that is shared between the health professionals they consult.

On Thursday, the federal government also reached health care funding agreements in principle with the other three Atlantic provinces and the province of Ontario. 

The funding is part of a $198.6 billion in spending over 10 years announced by the federal government on Feb. 7. Those funds are intended to improve health care services for Canadians, and included $46.2 billion in new funding.

Yvette d’Entremont is a bilingual (English/French) journalist and editor who enjoys covering health, science, research, and education.

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