Mr. Chairman, I should like to say a few words on the first item that is before us at the present time. Like the two previous speakers, I also should like to pay my tribute to the officials of the Department of National Health and Welfare. During the last parliament it was my privilege to head the committee on health and welfare within our little group, and I had occasion more than once to visit the various heads of departments within the Department of National Health and Welfare and I always got a very cordial response. I was given all the information that was available-it was far too much
for me to assimilate-and I appreciate their efforts very much to be helpful and agreeable.
Like the other two speakers, I also was keenly disappointed in the action or lack of action on the part of this government in implementing hospital insurance. We listened to the debates in the last parliament, and have listened to the promises made throughout the country that this would be implemented speedily; that mental and tubercular care would be included and that various changes would be made in the act, which would be a much better and much more suitable act; and that greater financial assistance should be given to the provinces.
However, a strange curtain of secrecy seems to have been woven around this question of hospital insurance since parliament assembled here in October, and it is not just with regard to the department of health. We can ask questions of practically every department in the government, and we are given the brush-off in most cases. In this respect our questions as to what progress is being made, how other provinces are reacting to the plan and whether arrangements to cover mental and tubercular care are being considered, have been particularly unsuccessful in obtaining any definite information. We are told that all is proceeding well; we are asked to have confidence in the government.
Mr. Chairman, we may have confidence in the government, but our confidence may be growing less day by day due to the fact that there is no co-operation between the government and members of the house to give us information about what is going on. I say with all seriousness that there cannot be co-operation unless we are advised of what this government is doing; we must at least have some knowledge that they have at heart these problems with which we are concerned. We should be told just a little bit of what is being done in order to sustain our confidence.
I am now going to make a few general remarks and when the detailed items are before us I will perhaps deal with them more specifically. The Department of National Health and Welfare is the second largest in terms of expenditure of all the departments of government, second only to the Department of National Defence, but in many ways it is of the greatest importance to the people of Canada of all departments of government. It is greater in importance than the Department of National Defence which spends more money because the greatest asset of any nation is the health of its people. At the moment I am more concerned with the subject of health than with the subject of welfare and so I will confine my remarks to that
aspect of the department. It is the duty of our department of health to ensure that we have a nation of healthy and vigorous people and so it must be constantly on the alert to guard, promote and maintain the health of Canadians.
Today the emphasis in the field of health is on prevention. The medical profession and all our health organizations are today gearing their efforts towards the prevention of sickness and disease rather than cure. In order to facilitate that program of prevention, in other words to combat disease before it occurs, we must have an additional speeded up program of research and study.
The battle that will be waged by our research men against sickness and disease will require a greatly enlarged staff and we will have to provide additional training facilities in order to prepare technicians and experts to carry on this research. This will also require the expenditure of vast sums of money but I am satisfied that the people of Canada will not begrudge money for this important aspect of promoting their own health and welfare and in building a nation of which each of us may well be proud. That is a general review, as I see it, of the need for expanding and continuing research into the prevention of sickness and disease.
One aspect of illness with which I wish to deal in greater detail at the present time is mental illness. This is the No. 1 health problem not only in Canada but throughout the world. It is difficult today to pick up a magazine or newspaper of any repute without finding a report of advances that are being made in the study of mental disorders and in devising cures for the various phases of mental illness with which our people are beset. I sometimes wonder if we are completely on the right track in this respect. Many patients who visit doctors at the present time complaining of stomach disorders, skin disorders, neuritis, sciatica and migraine headaches invariably have their disorder diagnosed as being attributable to nerves. If a person with a chronic skin disorder visits a doctor there is a strong likelihood that the doctor's verdict will be that the patient suffers from nervous eczema. A person suffering from what used to be called gastric stomach disorder or some other common stomach ailment is today invariably told that he has a nervous stomach. Those suffering from various neuralgic pains, sciatica, neuritis or migraine headaches are advised they are suffering from just plain "nerves". The treatment for those conditions, of course, is frequently psychiatry or sedation. I think that in too many cases our doctors today do not have the time to devote to treating these
Supply-Health and Welfare cases which seem to be increasing in number and an easy way out is to prescribe sedation. This of course has a temporary effect and may bring relief but I have often wondered if it is the proper relief.
I was recently intrigued by a series of articles which recently appeared in a publication written by two noted doctors, one from Montreal and one from the province of Saskatchewan. I will not mention any names but I will say that these men are approaching the problem of mental illness in a fresh way. In cases of chronic skin disease they are attempting to find if there is some physical cause for the disease. They are of the view that perhaps chronic skin diseases which can be extremely irritating are the cause of the nervous condition in the patient instead of the nervous temperament of the person being the cause of the skin disease. In other words we are coming back to the question: which came first the chicken or the egg? That is the problem these and other doctors are trying to determine today in the field of mental health. I suspect that all too often doctors have said that the patient's condition was caused by nerves whereas the nervous condition has in fact been the result of physical disability.
The chief of the mental health department of the province of Saskatchewan and the doctor in charge of the research institution there are taking that attitude. They are obtaining wonderful results by treating people who for years have been considered incurable mental patients. They are attacking the problem from the physical standpoint and have discovered that in many cases a physical disability has been the cause of a nervous condition from which patients have been condemned to suffer for many years. Many people have been cured and are leaving that institution to which they were condemned, if you will, and in which they expected to spend the rest of their lives. The problem of mental illness will require a vast amount of study, research and the expenditure of large sums of money.
Hon. members of this house frequently ask the government to cut down expenditures and yet we always seem to be hollering for it to spend more money. I would suggest, however, that there be absolutely no cutback in grants to provinces, universities and health organizations of any kind that are furthering the cause of research into any of the sicknesses and illnesses that plague our people at the present time. I would make a special plea that the grant for research and study in the field of mental illness be greatly increased
Supply-Health and Welfare because it is one of our greatest problems today and it looks as though it will be a continuing problem of increasing proportions unless some drastic action is taken.
Therefore, Mr. Chairman, as I said we shall go into the minor details of the huge expenditure contained in these estimates. We shall study the estimates as we go along, but I should like to emphasize this. I hope the Department of National Health and Welfare will do absolutely nothing, in the way of curtailing expenses, to interfere with grants to the provinces, to universities and to health organizations in any plans they may have that bring promise of winning the battle in the prevention of disease and sickness among our people.
Topic: BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE
Subtopic: EXTERNAL AFFAIRS