The Department of Health’s diabetes strategy is basically non-existent and that’s going to cost the people of the province.
Auditor General John Noseworthy said Wednesday diabetes is costing the health care system $254 million annually, and it is expected to increase to $322 million by 2020.
Newfoundland and Labrador has the highest rate of diabetes of any province or territory in Canada; 9.3 per cent of the population is diagnosed with the chronic disease.
“When we got into it, we found that, in fact, the department was not doing a good job of co-ordinating this and they haven’t really strategized how they’re going to tackle this,” Noseworthy said. “We talked with the regional health authorities in the province, and there were concerns expressed about the lack of consistency throughout the province as a result of the lack of co-ordination by the province.”
Between 2000 and 2006, the federal government provided $9.7 million to the province to create a Primary Health Care Office; one of the services it provided was help with chronic disease management, including diabetes.
But when the money from Ottawa stopped flowing, the office shut down.
Since then, there has been no provincewide strategy for chronic illness.
“Diabetes is one of the most complex diseases to manage and to treat,” said Carol Ann Smith, Newfoundland director for the Canadian Diabetes Association. “It can lead to such a wide range of complications that many of them require specialized treatment.”
What makes the issue even more challenging is that there are no accurate statistics for how many people in Newfoundland and Labrador have diabetes.
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Salaried physicians — roughly a third of all doctors in the province — do not track the number of diagnoses they make.
Moreover, salaried doctors treat more aboriginal patients, who generally have a higher rate of diabetes.
Smith agreed with Noseworthy’s report, which calls for the government to create a registry of diabetes patients in order to better track the disease.
“There’s no diabetes registry in Newfoundland and Lab-rador,” Noseworthy said. “I mean, Nova Scotia has had one since 1994. Manitoba has one.
“This is not rocket science, but it’s a good system where all information related to the diabetes would be captured.”
Action may be coming soon.
The Department of Health agreed with all of Noseworthy’s recommendations.
“I certainly think they are good recommendations,” Health Minister Jerome Kennedy said. “He outlines the problems we have with diabetes in this province, and I am aware as the minister that diabetes is a problem, not only in this province, not only in Canada, but throughout the world.”
Kennedy said he didn’t know why the province didn’t come up with money for the Primary Health Care Office when the federal funding ran out.
In order to reduce diabetes in the long run though, Kennedy said the government will have to put an emphasis on healthy living and encourage people to eat more healthy foods and get more exercise.