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Canadians losing confidence in free health care: Poll

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Canadians are reportedly losing faith in the public health care system, years after the pandemic ravaged hospitals and shuttered emergency rooms, a new survey suggests.

The findings, published Friday by public opinion research firm Research Co., found the number of Canadians confident the health care system will support them dropped 10 per cent from 18 months ago.

“I think the drop in confidence is really surprising,” said Mario Canseco, President of Research Co. “… You have essentially a third of Canadians who say, ‘I don’t want to get sick because I don’t think the system is going to be there for me.’”

According to the online survey, distributed to 1,000 Canadians earlier this month, 67 per cent of respondents said they were “very confident” or “moderately confident” they’ll get the help they need should they fall ill or have an accident.

That’s a significant drop from the 77 per cent of people who reported confidence in October of 2021, Canseco said — and the lowest confidence level he’s seen since starting the survey in 2018. Before the pandemic, Canadians’ health care confidence rarely dipped below 80 per cent, he explained

There has also been an uptick in support for private health care; 33 per cent of respondents said they “strongly agreed” or “moderately agreed” health care would be better if run by the private sector. That’s an increase of six per cent from 2021.

Meanwhile, 50 per cent of 2023 respondents said they were against privatization — a drop of six per cent from 2021. Before the pandemic, that figure hovered around 60 per cent, Canseco said.

“It’s not a majority (supporting privatization). We don’t have a lot of people clamoring for a private system or saying that everything should be dismantled — but it’s certainly a drop that is noteworthy,” he continued.

Canseco noted that 78 per cent of people disagreed with Canada making cuts to health care to reduce government debt — a decrease of four per cent from the previous year and another indicator of a trend toward privatization.

“There is a political component to this that is quite evident,” Canseco said. For example, 21 and 33 per cent of NDP and Liberal voters, respectively, supported privatization. In contrast, 43 per cent of Conservative voters said they’d prefer private health care.

“It’s not the entirety of their base, but it could be a way in which (Conservatives) can try to attract voters dissatisfied about health care,” Canseco said.

The drivers of this shift in confidence are people 55 and older, Canseco said, suggesting it’s because they remember a time when things were better.

“The more time you spend dealing with the system, the more dissatisfied you become. And that’s going to be problematic for the government.”

20 per cent of Canadians think Canada’s health care system works well, while the majority — 56 per cent — said there are some good things about the system; 17 per cent think there’s so much wrong with health care we need to rebuild the entire system, a five per cent increase from 2021.

Respondents were also divided on the biggest issue facing health care; 34 per cent believe a shortage of doctors and nurses is the problem, while 23 per cent cited long wait times. Bureaucracy and poor management were named as the biggest problems by 17 per cent, with the remainder split between a lack of services for patients, too little focus on preventive care and poor standards of hygiene.

Despite the downward trend in opinions, Canadians still have a better view of health care compared to the US or EU, Canseco said — and the vast majority are still against privatization.

“People are getting more dissatisfied,” he said, “but they’re not necessarily looking at privatization as the option that’s going to make everything better.”

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