Governance of mental healthcare: Fragmented accountability Journal Articles uri icon

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  • Within international healthcare systems the neglect of mental health and challenge in shifting from institutional to community care have been recurrent themes. In analysing the challenges, we focus on the case study of Canada by exploring the manner in which health law and policy evolved to inhibit community-based mental healthcare, and compare the resulting funding landscape from an international perspective. The historical institutionalist analysis draws on the literature and healthcare finance data. As a spending statute, the Canada Health Act defines the terms on which the federal government finances publicly insured provincial healthcare. Despite the goal to support physical and mental well-being by removing financial barriers to access health services, exclusion of community care offered by non-physicians (such as psychotherapy) from the terms of the Act inhibited its fulfilment. Diminished federal transfers deepened the disincentive for provinces to establish community care: mental health declined from 11 to 7 percent of provincial healthcare spending from 1979 to 2014. Governance oversight was passed to provinces whose competing demands on diminished resources limited their capacity to extend care. Accountability was found fragmented as neither government stepped-in to ensure the continuum of care, even as federal transfers were restored and evidence of cost-effectiveness grew. Although American and Canadian funding patterns are similar, other OECD countries invest between 13 and 18 percent of healthcare expenditures on mental health. Lessons from the Canadian case are the manner in which its federal structure and intergovernmental dynamics shaped health policy, and the importance of ensuring representation from a range of perspectives in policy development. Federal financial incentives were also found to profoundly impact the expansion of community-based mental healthcare. Evidence shows that public insurance for community supports would reduce healthcare expenditures and employer productivity loss, resulting in savings of $255 billion over 30 years.


  • Wiktorowicz, Mary E
  • Di Pierdomenico, Kaitlin
  • Buckley, Neil
  • Lurie, Steve
  • Czukar, Gail

publication date

  • July 2020