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'Costly' Military Health Care Needs Fixing: Fraser

Becky Rynor , CanWest News Service
Published: Thursday, March 06, 2008

OTTAWA - An audit of health care services for military personnel says the Department of National Defence can't efficiently gauge whether it is providing adequate health care, the quality of that care, or whether its even getting its money's worth.

Auditor General Sheila Fraser also told the commons committee on national defence Thursday, that at the time of the audit, DND couldn't even guarantee whether its doctors were properly certified to treat patients. Fraser appeared before the commons committee to deliver findings from her report on military health care.

"Obviously the health care of the military is very important and it's a very expensive program as well - $500 million per year," Fraser said. "We would have expected the department to have really good management systems to know if the cost was appropriate, if people were getting the level of care needed, if the workloads of the doctor were appropriate, if the doctors were actually qualified and certified to be practicing."

For example, a survey on mental illness in 2002 by Statistics Canada found that only 25 per cent of military personnel who reported mental health problems or disorders felt they had got sufficient help for their illness, Fraser told the committee.

The Canadian Armed Forces provides health care to over 63,500 military personnel in Canada and abroad.

Fraser also said that at the time of the audit, DND couldn't guarantee that their doctors and other health professionals were professionally certified. Although Brig.-Gen. Hilary Jaeger said measures have been taken since then to remedy that.

"We've really taken the auditor general's recommendations to heart and since her report have managed to verify the credentials of 100 per cent of our physicians, including those people involved in mental health care. So we're very confident we're well on the rails with that," Jaeger said.

Military officials confirmed an unlicensed doctor was allegedly allowed to treat patients at CFB Petawawa last month.

The doctor began treating uniformed military personnel at the base in February 2007, and was allegedly able to see about 100 patients before military personnel learned he was practising without a medical licence, said Lt.-Col. Jim Kile.

According to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario website, the man's medical licence expired on Aug. 31, 2006.

The incident occurs at a time when the military faces critical shortages of medical and mental health personnel.

Jaeger said post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression continues to be a serious problem in the Canadian Armed Forces. While DND is attempting to hire more doctors to deal with this illness, she said it hasn't been easy.

"We are looking for more. In 2002 we put in place a plan to build to a number of 447 total mental health personnel, that includes social workers, mental health nurses, psychiatrists, psychologists, addictions counsellors and pastoral counsellors across the Canadian forces. We're not there yet. We're trying very hard to recruit in a field that faces shortages across the country."

While some members of the committee expressed concern that some soldiers were being sent back into combat after being diagnosed and treated for PTSD, Jaeger defended the practice.

"It's a very important decision to make. And its not taken lightly," she said. But she said not allowing them to go back to the front lines could drive the problem "underground." This, she added, at a time when the military is making progress in fighting the stigma associated with of mental illness in the military.

"But what I can tell you for certain is that if we ever have a policy that says no matter how well you do in treatment, we will never, ever entertain sending you back, then you have just told somebody their military career is over and that is a recipe for making sure that they won't tell you the truth after you do. You won't be able to get them into treatment in a timely way.

Reproduced from http://www.canada.com/topics/news/national/story.html?id=fab899ac-61d1-4a87-8551-89123096338d&k=21451

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