Earlier this week, Bill C-277 (also known as the Framework on Palliative Care in Canada Act) became law. The goal of the new legislation is to improve end-of-life health care for Canadians and it calls on the government to create a unified national framework for such care.

The Act started as a private members’ bill introduced by Conservative MP Marilyn Gladu (Sarnia-Lambton). Gladu was inspired to act in the wake of the federal legalization of physician assisted dying and a desire to ensure better access to palliative care Canada-wide. She stated that she wanted Canadians to “live as well as they can for as long as they can”.

The first reading in the House of Commons was in May 2016. Groups that supported the Bill included the Canadian Society of Palliative Care Physicians, the Canadian Nurses Association, and the Canadian Medical Association.

Gladu told CBC News that:

This bill creates a framework … that defines the palliative care services that will be covered by the government and the training for the different levels of service provider.

What Now?

Now that the Bill has passed, the federal government has six months to begin working with provincial governments and palliative care providers to develop the national plan and outline how access to palliative care will be provided through hospitals, residential hospices, home care, and long-term care facilities.

The federal Minister of Health has one year to prepare a report outlining the national framework and present it to Parliament.

The national plan/framework must:

  • Define “palliative care”;
  • Identify the education and training needs of palliative care providers;
  • Identify measures needed to support palliative care providers;
  • Identify measures needed to assist in consistent access to palliative care across the country;
  • Evaluate whether the Canada Health Act should be amended to include palliative care services; and
  • Collect data and research on palliative care.

In a news release following the Bill’s passing, Gladu noted that:

Providing better palliative care service across Canada will strengthen our nation and improve conditions for millions of Canadians making important healthcare choices.

Reactions from the Palliative Care Community

Dr. Darren Cargill, a palliative care physician and the Hospice of Windsor and Essex County, told CBC News that there are “tremendous gaps” when it comes to palliative care across the country and he has seen patients struggle to obtain access to publicly-funded healthcare.  He says that he is impressed by the Bill and hopes that it will help make it easier for patients to access that care wherever they may be when they need it, whether that is at home, in a hospital, or in another facility. He also hopes that better access to palliative care will influence patients to choose that option.

A further gap that has been seen by some relates to education and training of health care providers when it comes to palliative care. Cargill told CBC News that he believes that both medical school and school for other areas such as social work and personal support work should provide better end-of-life care training.

Cargill believes the pending consultation process will be an important time for health-care workers, patients, and families to raise their concerns about palliative care and involve themselves in the process.

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