Federal government unveils plan to improve access to diabetes care across Canada

The federal government has submitted a long-awaited plan to the House of Commons to improve access to diabetes treatment and prevention in Canada, Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos announced Wednesday.

Liberal MP Sonia Sidhu called for the framework as part of a private bill to come into effect in 2021.

At the time, Diabetes Canada was crying out for some sort of national vision to tackle the spread of the disease.

“The framework means Canada will have a coordinated response to diabetes that will improve health outcomes for everyone,” Sidhu told a news conference alongside the health minister on Wednesday.

Diabetes prevents the body from producing or using insulin, which in turn controls glucose in the blood. It is a leading cause of blindness, kidney failure, heart attacks, strokes and lower limb amputations.

Under the private member’s bill, the framework should outline the training, education and guidance health professionals need to advance the treatment and prevention of diabetes, including new clinical practice guidelines.

The bill says the government will ensure that the Canada Revenue Agency administers the disability tax credit fairly and in a way that helps as many people with diabetes as possible.

It will also cover research, surveillance and data collection, Sidhu said.

Long-awaited strategy

Supporters of diabetes patients have been complaining for years about the lack of federal vision on the disease.

“There’s really a gap with having an overall playbook or framework, and then there (are) gaps in being able to measure progress by providing data,” Laura Syron, president of Diabetes Canada, said in an interview on Wednesday.

A federal strategy was drafted in 1999, which in 2005 was incorporated into a larger strategy to tackle chronic diseases.

“The longer we delay coordinated efforts with targeted results, the more diabetes prevalence will increase and the more Canadians will experience its tragic complications,” said Dr. Jan Hux, then president of Diabetes Canada, in a media statement in 2019.

Since then, the prevalence of diabetes and pre-diabetes in Canada has risen 6.5 percent, according to statistics released by Diabetes Canada — and the annual cost of treating the disease has risen to $30 billion.

A diabetic is holding a smartphone with an application that automatically calculates the best insulin mix. (Patrick Hertzog/AFP/Getty Images)

As of March 2022, there were 5.7 million people diagnosed with diabetes and another five million with pre-diabetes — a condition that, if left untreated, can develop into type 2 diabetes.

“I am a person living with type 2 diabetes, so I can tell you with confidence that this framework has the potential to change the lives of millions of people living with diabetes like me, and those who care for them,” Syron said at the press conference.

The strategy will serve as a roadmap for provincial health systems, outlining what diabetes treatment and prevention should look like in Canada, she said.

She said she is particularly interested in starting a conversation about reducing the stigma surrounding diabetes, which research has found makes people less likely to take their medication and undermines patients’ quality of life.

Now that the framework is in place, she said, her organization will push the federal government to fund it in the next budget.

The government is also speaking with indigenous groups to address diabetes in First Nations, Inuit and Métis populations, Duclos said.

“We also know that indigenous peoples are diagnosed with diabetes at a younger age, often have more severe symptoms and have more difficulty accessing appropriate health care, and therefore are at higher risk for complications and experience poorer treatment outcomes,” Duclos said.

The federal government also funds the Aboriginal Diabetes Initiative to address the excessive risks Indigenous people face from the disease. The initiative aims to deliver primary prevention, screening and treatment programs with the help of First Nations and provincial and territorial governments.

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