Health care groups criticize government on cuts to refugee health

Photo by RambergMediaImages

Health care providers are expressing frustration with federal government over the lack of consultation on financial cuts to refugee health under the Interim Federal Health Program.

Rick Dykstra, the parliamentary secretary to Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, announced Friday that no consultation process took place with Canadian health organizations prior to the refugee health cuts announced June 30.

Dr. Meb Rashid, a family physician and member of the steering committee of the North American Refugee Health Conference, said that the lack of discussion has continued since the June announcement, despite outcry from a number of medical groups.

“Not only was there not consultation before these changes were announced, it seems like they rejected the requests of organizations that represent health care professionals to discuss these issues after the announcement,” Rashid said.

Rashid said that a group of seven national health organizations, including such groups as the Canadian Nurses Association and the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, had requested a meeting with Minister Kenney after the announcement. They never received a response to their request.

This frustration was echoed by James Chauvin, policy director at the Canadian Public Health Association. Chauvin said a letter issued to Kenney by the Canadian Network of Public Health Associations, calling on the government to rescind or reconsider the changes to refugee health benefits, received no formal response.

Dykstra said in the House of Commons that the cuts made to the IFHP were part of the confidential budget process, preventing public consultation.

However, Dykstra said members of the health branch in the Citizenship and Immigration Canada office, composed of medical professionals including doctors and nurses, were able to advise on the matter.

“CIC’s health branch has the necessary expertise and is responsible for the management of the immigration medical examination worldwide as well as the Interim Federal Health Program,” Dykstra said in Parliament Friday.

The immigration department did not respond to requests from The Ward for comment.

Rashid said his conversations with CIC health professionals suggest that these officials rarely comment on policy matters before they are tabled in the House.

“In our conversations with senior medical staff working in CIC, they repeatedly have suggested that they do not speak about policy. Their focus is on the implementation of policy,” Rashid said.

“It’s interesting. We’ve never heard that the suggestion that these senior healthcare workers that we’re in touch with were in support or opposed to this policy in any way.”

Rashid, who has worked extensively with newly arrived refugees over the past 10 years, said that a consultation process could have prevented the many consequences of the refugee health cuts.

Rashid is particularly concerned with the number of doctors who have turned away refugee patients with serious medical concerns, including pregnant women and patients requiring surgery.

“There are people who are repeatedly turned away from care,” Rashid said.

“We had children with infectious diseases who have been turned away from clinics because people don’t understand the system.”

Rashid said a consultation process prior to the implementation of these cuts to refugee health benefits would have prevented the blocking of these crucial medical treatments.

“For a number of reasons, these changes don’t really seem to make a lot of sense,” Rashid said.

“And we certainly would have liked to have the opportunity to sit down and discuss them with government officials.”

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Categories: Health news, Latest News, Policy, Public health

Author:Rachel Lauren Gardner

Lover of laughter, words, sketching, philosophy and jazz music. Believer that there is no greater power than that of a story to connect one heart to another, inspire thoughtful discussion, and create change.

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