David Naylor, head of an expert panel for the federal government that saw its months of work on health-care innovation quietly buried last week by way of a Friday afternoon release, is not ready to concede its death just yet.
Absent any plans by Ottawa to talk up the $700,000 report's findings, Dr. Naylor did the job himself on Thursday, telling a Toronto audience action is needed to break the political "gridlock" around health-care reform and warning that without it, the system will continue to lose ground.
Canada needs "strengthened and shared political resolve," Dr. Naylor said at a quickly arranged event at Toronto's MaRS innovation centre, a medical-science hub steps from the University of Toronto, where he was president and dean of medicine.
Dr. Naylor, joined by fellow panel member Neil Fraser, took on critics of the report's call for a $1-billion health-care innovation fund controlled by a new agency that is arm's length from government – an "innovation Switzerland" with a Swiss bank account, he called it.
This "supposedly controversial innovation fund," he said, would represent a small fraction of the approximately $265-billion Ottawa will spend this year on programs and people.
Rather than a big-ticket proposal, he called the measure a "marginal reallocation of existing funds" that would represent less than 0.5 per cent of spending – a "no brainer" considering the sustainable improvements it would spur.
The report from the Advisory Panel on Healthcare Innovation comes just three months before a federal election in which opposition parties want to emphasize health care.
Asked how the report's findings might shape that debate, Dr. Naylor spoke generally, saying there is a question of what is the federal government's correct share of health-care funding.
"Canadians need to have that discussion with those [who] would lead this country," he said. "I also think it's important to discuss what are the terms for that sharing."
Parties also need to be asked what they would do with new money, since history has shown that increased investments do not always improve things for patients, he said.
Dr. Naylor said news of the report's death is premature. "This zombie report has climbed out of the grave and acquired new life," he told the Toronto audience.
"I think that the panelists are a very patient bunch," he said later in an interview. "Most of us have been around public policy and health care a very long time. We've seen a lot of governments come and go, we've seen governments change their minds about issues and we're quite prepared to see where our ideas land in the fullness of time."
Provincial reaction to the report has been slow.
Contacted on Thursday, Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins called on Ottawa to return to "the health-care table." He praised the panel for going beyond its narrow mandate. "Canadians can be glad that the Panel chose to not let their work be arbitrarily constrained by limitations placed upon them," he said in a statement.
B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake praised the report's call for transfers to take into account the disproportionate number of seniors in provinces such as his own. Changes to health transfers "do not recognize population needs of provinces," he said in a message to The Globe.