Interview with Don Newman

Don Newman, one of Canada’s most respected and trusted journalists will lend his experience and balanced perspective to a national conversation on palliative care in November, 2016. As Chairman of the lay panel for the Palliative Care Matters consensus development phase, Newman’s skill and diplomacy will be drawn upon to help shape a national vision for palliative care. Here he shares his views on the importance of a national approach, and why he feels that now is the time to take action to the benefit of all Canadians.

Why do you believe it is vital to reach a consensus on palliative care in Canada right now?

As the population continues to age the need for palliative care will increase. People live longer, but to an important degree as they live longer they are more susceptible to the illnesses of old age.‎ Dementia and Alzheimer's are just two examples, but there are many others as well.

Going forward, the demand for palliative care will become acute. We must act now to agree on best practices for providing palliative care, how is it to be financed in relation to traditional ongoing health care, and the mix of private care and public care that will be available.

What is it about this initiative that compelled you to become involved?

This initiative has a particular appeal. It has been launched by Covenant Health in Alberta, is being held in Ontario in the national capital of Ottawa and has attracted people from around the country.

Beyond that, it is being held at the time when federal and provincial deputy health ministers are near the end of their negotiations for a new federal-provincial health accord.  

When the last accord was negotiated in 2004, money was specifically committed to the illnesses of the aging baby boomers: cardiac care ‎and joint replacement. Twelve years later priorities have shifted somewhat – and during the life of a new accord, will shift even more.  

Palliative care will become an ever increasing function of the health care system. Now is the time to be thinking how best to deliver it.

Do you know of friends or family members who have received palliative care?

In 1993, a member of my family was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Despite chemotherapy, a year later she could no longer get out of bed. Fortunately, Ontario had a program of home care for terminally ill cancer patients in the later stages of life. Through that system of palliative care she was able to remain to the end in her home --- something that was very important to her.

What would you like to see as the legacy of this initiative? 

The legacy of this conference should be threefold.

Public awareness that palliative care is an increasingly large and important part of health care in Canada is primary.

From that must come a consensus ‎ on minimum standards of care across the country, adequate funding to provide them, and ready accessibility when required.

Finally, the Canadian people need to take ownership of our findings, and through them the country's ministers of health and the governments in which they serve.

If that all happens, then Canadians will have a program of palliative care across the nation worthy of a compassionate, 21st century country.