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Ontario Health Coalition calls testing capacity issues bogus

Posted: April 1, 2022

(March 30, 2022)

By: Adelle Loiselle, Blackburn News

COVID-19 testing in a laboratory. (Photo from Pxhere)

COVID-19 testing in a laboratory. (Photo from Pxhere)

A new investigation by the Ontario Health Coalition alleges the Ford government could have continued widespread public testing for COVID-19 in December but chose instead to drive the public to private clinics.

Executive Director Natalie Mehra calls it another example of ever-creeping privatization in Ontario’s health care system.

At the end of last year, the Ford government issued strict new guidelines outlining who qualified for COVID-19 testing. It was limited to those usually working in or residing in high-risk settings like long-term care homes, hospitals, and group homes. At the same time, it awarded more private pharmacies and companies contracts to test for the virus at a cost to the public. Most of those who utilized those services were travellers, visitors to high-risk settings, and those who believed they had the virus and were not content with simply assuming they were infected.

Mehra’s group recruited student nurses to call each private clinic inquiring about the cost of a COVID-19 test. The results, she said, were shocking.

Some clinics were charging up to $200 for a single PCR test, which the coalition considers an essential health service.

Under the Canada Health Act, an essential health service is defined as “medically necessary for the purpose of maintaining health, preventing disease or diagnosing or treating an injury, illness, or disability.”

“If there was ever a time when we would expect the Canada Health Act would be upheld and respected more, it would be during a pandemic,” said Mehra. “Frankly, we are shocked and appalled that this is happening, and we want it to end immediately.”

Mehra also alleges the Ford government had no reason to limit publicly funded testing. She said the province has the capacity to conduct 105,000 tests a day, but after December 30, testing fell by 85 per cent. Many public health units justified dialing back on public testing by saying they were shifting their focus to vaccination and needed those resources in those clinics.

Doctor Gordon Guyatt with Canadian Doctors for Medicare has a different take on it.

“The excuse of the government of not enough resources is clearly bogus,” he asserted. “The resources are there if the government chose to use them.”

An email requesting a statement in response to the allegations has been sent to the Ministry of Health.

Cathryn Hoy represents 68,000 nurses and 18,000 nursing students in Ontario as President of the Ontario Nurses Association.

“We call on the Ford government to reinstate widespread access to public COVID-19 testing and restore test tracing, isolating public health measures,” she said. “We also call on the Ford government to immediately, and I mean immediately, stop the broader privatization agenda.”

A spokesman with the Ontario Ministry of Health told Wednesday evening that patients should not be getting charged for tests that are already covered by provincial guidelines.

Timely and accessible PCR testing remains available and free of charge for Ontarians who are at increased risk of severe outcomes and those living and working in highest-risk settings,” said spokesman Bill Campbell. “We have complemented this with a robust rapid testing strategy, and continue to make five million rapid tests available to the general public every week, including at assessment centres for those that don’t require a PCR test. Private clinics are only able to offer and charge individuals for COVID-19 PCR tests that fall outside provincial guidance (this includes PCR testing for travel purposes). The government does not have oversight over what companies charge for private testing. If a person is charged for a COVID-19 test that is covered within the current provincial guidance, the person can email and the ministry will investigate.

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