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Nurses, patient advocates rip Queen’s Park plan to privatize more surgeries

Posted: January 16, 2023

(January 16, 2023)

By: Norman De Bono, London Free Press

A move by the Ontario government to privatize more surgeries will worsen the surgical backlog that’s hit area hospitals, says the local representative for a provincewide advocacy group.

More doctors, nurses and other staff will shift to private clinics at a time hospitals are already dealing with staff shortages, hurting patient care, said Peter Bergmanis, chairperson of the London arm of the Ontario Health Coalition.

“There’s not a parallel pool of human resources. It’s the same surgeons, doctors, nurses and technicians the two systems will share,” he said.

The Ontario government this week is expected to announce it’s expanding surgeries that can be done in private clinics outside of publicly funded hospitals. It’s believed that will include cataract surgery, knee and hip replacements to name a few.

“How do we have public dollars for private clinics, but not for hospitals? We have emergency rooms and surgery needing money, but we have it for private clinics,” Bergmanis said. “It will drain public coffers and that money should be invested in the public system and not given to the private sector.”

Officials with the London Health Sciences Centre reported in early 2022 that it had a backlog of about 7,000 surgeries, adding it may take three to five years to clear that jam.

The privatization move is being defended by Rob Flack, Progressive Conservative MPP for Elgin-Middlesex-London. He said in a statement on Sunday that it’s needed to “tackle the backlog” in hospitals. “We have to do things differently because we’re behind,” Flack said. “And finding innovative, new and creative solutions that work makes sense.”

But that surgical backlog is a result of health-care underfunding and staff shortages, which the funding going to private clinics can help address, said Bernie Robinson, vice-president of the Ontario Nurses Association, the union representing nurses.

“It’s a despicable move. It will deplete resources and cripple the public health-care system. It will make it more difficult to access health care Ontarians need,” she said. “Everyone in the province should be concerned. This government is creating a two-tier healthcare system.”

While some procedures will be paid by OHIP, private clinics may also hit patients with additional fees and try to “upsell” them on care. “It’s a plan to break the system we now have,” Robinson said.

Ontario has a surgical backlog of about 250,000, provincial officials have said. The nurses union has reported the province needs 24,000 nurses to help address patient care.

Mario Elia is a London family doctor. On social media this weekend, he expressed concern over the move, and questioned why money isn’t going to surgical clinics operated by the London Health Sciences Centre, which has proven it can do the work at a lower cost. He called the Nazem Kadri Surgical Centre “a big success story,” cutting surgical costs by about 60 per cent while delivering similar outcomes to conventional surgery.

“What’s the plan for maintaining safe staffing of hospitals with staff leaving for private clinics? We’re already starting from an unsafe baseline,” he wrote. St. Josephs Health Care London also has an ambulatory and shortstay surgical centre.

In April, the Ontario government gave London Health Sciences Centre $10 million to expand its off-site surgical centre on Baseline Road, to help the hospital complete 3,000 more procedures each year including 500 more hip and knee replacements.

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