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Ottawa Doctors to Harper Government: Don’t Cut Refugee Health Care!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

OTTAWA, May 10, 2012 – Physicians in major urban centers across Canada are calling on the federal government to preserve critical health care services currently provided to refugees through the Interim Federal Health Program. Doctors and other health professionals at Ottawa’s Community Health Centres are standing in support of their colleagues in opposition to proposed program cuts. On April 25, 2012, federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announced alarming changes to the Interim Federal Health Program, which provides temporary health coverage to refugee applicants without provincial or territorial health insurance. These cuts would prevent thousands of refugees from accessing much-needed basic health care when they arrive in Canada, a move that is unethical and economically misguided, according to doctors across the country."It's inconceivable and unethical that we would deprive some of the most vulnerable people coming into this country of basic health care," says Dr. Megan Williams, a physician at Ottawa’s Somerset West Community Health Centre. “We see the needs of immigrants and refugees on a daily basis in our Centre. Taking away primary and preventive health care services for refugees puts them at further risk of serious illness, and actually creates a serious threat to public health for everyone.”

The changes introduced by federal authorities will go into effect on June 30, 2012. After this date, refugee claimants will be denied access to hospital services, doctors and nurses, ambulances and medications or vaccines unless their situation is deemed urgent. In some cases, refugees will not be treated at all unless their condition poses a risk to public health or safety. This means refugees in Canada will receive no treatment for chronic diseases including heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol, and lung disease.“As dedicated health professionals serving our communities, we are very concerned that the consequences of these policy changes will be devastating,” said Dr. Carol Geller, a physician at the Centretown Community Health Centre. “We believe that no one should be denied access to the health care they need, and recognize today more than ever that refugees face specific health challenges. Everyone deserves access to treatment.”

“The decision is simple. Rather than taking away the rights of vulnerable people to basic health care, the government should remain committed to providing health care support for refugees,” said Mike Bell, Chair of the Somerset West Community Health Centre board. “We urge federal authorities to preserve Canada’s commitment to health care for all, and to remain leaders in the protection of international refugees."

Ottawa Doctors will assemble on Parliament Hill on Friday, May 11 at 2:00 p.m. to protest the changes to the Interim Federal Health Program.

For further information:
Dr. Doug Gruner
613-795-9904 (cell)
Dr. Megan Williams
Dr. David Ponka