OPINION: The privatization of hospital services under Doug Ford
Posted: June 9, 2022
(June 7, 2022)
By: Natalie Mehra, Toronto Sun
The Ford government is planning to privatize our public hospital services. This statement is based on a video of the minister of health, the government’s own written plans, and a Ford government press release announcing millions of dollars to expand private clinics.
There is no misinterpretation.
In fact, we sincerely hope that Ford will change these plans and commit to using our public funding to expand our public not for-profit clinics and hospitals, rather than privatizing them. But let’s not pretend it isn’t happening.
Here is the evidence.
Minister of Health Christine Elliott joined Premier Ford in a press conference broadcast on Feb. 1 and said the following, “We are opening pediatric surgeries, cancer surgeries, making sure we allow independent health facilities (private clinics) operate private hospitals…”
This certainly raised red flags for us. Private for-profit hospitals are banned in Ontario, for good reason, with only two that are still operating remaining from those that were grandfathered in when the public hospital system was formalized in 1973.
That statement is serious enough and the government has been trying to backtrack on it ever since. However, it is not the only basis for our raising the alarm about the Ford government’s hospital privatization plans.
This is Ford’s written pandemic plan, in reference to the backlog of surgeries and diagnostics. It states that the Ford government intends to, “Address backlog through innovative channels such as the use of alternate health facilities (private clinics)…”
This followed a leaked version of the same document in which the written plan was to clear the backlogs, “…through innovative channels such as the use of independent health facilities (private clinics)…” They changed the words slightly, after the media got hold of it, but they did not change the actual plan.
All of these followed a Ford government press release on July 28, 2021 announcing: $24 million in new funding to independent health facilities (private clinics) to expand their provision of surgeries and diagnostics, and to expand the number of independent health facilities.
“Independent health facilities” and “alternate health facilities” are code words for private clinics. Ontario’s Auditor General reports that 98% of independent health facilities are private for-profit clinics.
Privatization is a political choice, not a necessity. Ontario’s public hospitals have operating rooms that are closed for weeks or months at a time, or even permanently, due to lack of public funding and staffing. Our public hospitals are funded at the lowest rate of all provinces. Our government can absolutely support and fund our local public non-profit hospitals to operate to capacity and even build more capacity in them eliminate the backlogs caused by the pandemic, if they choose to do so.
The choice to privatize is bad policy. It means shunting the profitable easiest patients along with public hospital staff and funding over to private profit-seeking clinics. More expensive patients — those with diabetes, patients who are overweight or have complex health issues — are left behind for the public system with less staff and funding.
It means empowering a for-profit industry which seeks to take money out of public health for their own profit rather than provide quality care, as we have seen to our horror in our private nursing homes. It means a lesser safety regime, poorer outcomes and more preventable deaths.
Not only is the privatization of our hospitals and health care bad policy, it is undemocratic. No Ontario party has a mandate to privatize health care. Doing so with our public money while pretending to do otherwise is profoundly wrong.
Natalie Mehra is Executive Director of the Ontario Health Coalition, which represents more than 400 organizations and more than 750,000 Ontario seniors, patients, LTC residents and families, unions, nurses, doctors, health professionals, cultural organizations, patient advocates, women’s groups and more. Our mandate is to protect and expand public health care.