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COVID-19: Solutions to the urgent need for hospital beds

Montreal, December 2, 2020 – Our health care system is hard-pressed to withstand the repeated blows of the pandemic. One of the issues highlighted by the health crisis is the urgent need for more hospital beds, as Canada lags behind many other countries in this regard. A research paper prepared by Peter St. Onge in collaboration with Maria Lily Shaw, launched today by the Montreal Economic Institute, proposes some concrete solutions.

“Canada has one-fifth as many hospital beds per capita as Japan. We have around 2.5 per 1,000 inhabitants, while France has six and Germany eight. We shouldn’t be surprised by the fact that we don’t have enough hospital beds at the moment,” says Maria Lily Shaw, economist and co-author of the publication. “Even in normal times, the occupation rate is far above the international average. We need to do what’s required to address this situation.”

“The problems stemming from the lack of beds reverberate throughout the health care system. Access to mental health care and to many surgical procedures has been compromised. It’s simply unacceptable,” argues Peter St. Onge, co-author of the publication and Senior Fellow at the MEI.

The capacity of our health care system therefore has to be increased substantially. It remains mediocre despite consistently high spending over the years. The researchers identify solutions that would require no long-term investments:

  • Use of activity-based funding, which encourages the provision of care and the treatment of more patients, rather than a model based on historical budgets
  • Decentralizing and de-bureaucratizing the system in order to allow administrators to allocate resources and personnel in an optimal manner
  • Making full use of existing resources by expanding the scope of practice of nurse practitioners and pharmacists, and by encouraging telemedicine
  • Allowing private entrepreneurs to provide health care services covered by Medicare, an approach used in Europe that would allow us to increase the capacity of the health care system

“According to several of our polls, the measures we are proposing are supported by Canadians: They find the system too bureaucratic, they are open to a bigger role for nurses, and they want to have access to care provided by entrepreneurs. Clearly, it’s time to act,” concludes Peter St. Onge.

The Research Paper entitled For a Strong and Resilient Post-COVID Health Care System: Reforms to Expand Surge Capacity is available on our website.

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The Montreal Economic Institute is an independent public policy think tank. Through its publications, media appearances, and advisory services to policy-makers, the MEI stimulates public policy debate and reforms based on sound economics and entrepreneurship.


Interview requests: Daniel Dufort, Cell.: 438-886-9919 / Email: ddufort@iedm.org

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