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Friday, April 29, 2011

Coming back to our census

Judith Shamian is president of the Canadian Nurses Association (CNA) and president and CEO of the Victorian Order of Nurses (VON). She is also a professor at the Lawrence S. Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing at the University of Toronto, a co-investigator with the Nursing Health Services Research Unit, and was the executive director of the Office of Nursing Policy at Health Canada for five years. 

Last summer, the health and research community voiced grave concerns about the government’s decision to replace the mandatory long-form census questionnaire with a voluntary national household survey. Census data are necessary for designing, monitoring and delivering effective health programs and services. Most of us agreed that the decision will result in a less accurate picture of Canada’s demographics, making it harder to allocate resources where they’re needed most.

This issue captured the attention of Canadians, yet it has now fallen off the radar. It’s a shame because our country needs – now more than ever – reliable numbers, targets and measurements to get the most value from its health dollar. Canada’s nurses believe that such information is essential to support smart solutions to health system challenges, including: 

·        national strategies to coordinate research into, and treatment and prevention of chronic diseases such as diabetes and Alzheimer’s
·        a pan-Canadian plan to develop and grow our pool of health professionals
·        electronic health records that can follow individual Canadians wherever they may live
·        national goals, performance measurements and investments in key health areas
·        country-wide tracking of our progress and effectiveness in all of these initiatives

Information from the Canadian long-form census provides the benchmark by which research findings are weighed and verified. Decisions on health and social policy are better when they are based on the best possible data. Let’s hope that a sustained spotlight on the census issue will bring back the best practices in statistical science. A healthy future for all depends on the health system’s ability to accurately direct its resources to the varying needs of the Canadian population.

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