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Report raises red flags over Ontario’s health care privatization

Posted: November 8, 2023

(November 7, 2023)

By: BayToday

At a media conference led by CUPE’s OCHU and the Ontario Health Coalition in North Bay on Monday, the speakers urged the Ontario government to scrap private surgeries and invest in public hospitals.

The discussion turned to the situation at the North Bay Regional Health Centre where there are 10 operating rooms and three are dedicated to specific types of surgery such as labour and delivery. Of the remaining seven ORs, only five are used during daytime hours only and only one OR is in use on evenings and weekends.

“There is a lot of unused OR capacity in the public hospital, had they the funding and staffing to run them,” stated Natalie Mehra, executive director
of the Ontario Health Coalition. “There is no need to pay to build new ORs when the ORs in the North Bay Hospital are still unused and underused. Worse, any staff taken away by private clinics only takes much-needed people away from the already far-too-thin staffing at the hospital.”

Drawing on new data from Freedom of Information requests, financial and statistical analysis, and research, a new report raises red flags about the Ford government’s privatization of the core services of public hospitals — including diagnostics and surgeries.

At What Cost? Ontario hospital privatization and the threat to public health care, published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, lays out the negative impact of the Ford government’s plans for Ontario’s public hospitals and patients.

The report covers the difference in stated government expenditures on private clinics versus the actual spending.

“Increasing surgical and diagnostic capacity depends on the availability of qualified staff, which is not magically increased by the addition of profit,” said Andrew Longhurst, political economist, and author of the new report. “Ontario has the physical space and equipment to improve wait times for surgeries and medical
imaging; what is missing is the health-care workforce and funding necessary to do the work.”

A Simon Fraser University health policy researcher, Longhurst is concerned that Ontario is set to repeat the mistakes of Alberta, a province that saw wait times increase and total surgical volumes decline as public funding and staffing were diverted into investor-owned centres.

Longhurst noted Ontario has increased overall health funding by 1.2 per cent this year, less than the rate of inflation of 5.6 per cent. This is not the case for private clinics and hospitals. His report reveals that the government has increased their funding for for-profit surgeries by 45 per cent and public funding to the for-profit Shouldice Hospital and Don Valley Surgical Unit have increased 19 per cent and 278 per cent respectively since 2018 when the Ford government was elected.

According to the report, provinces that have the most for-profit clinics and hospitals (British Columbia, Quebec, Alberta) generally show poorer wait time performance than provinces with no or little to no privatization.

In Ontario, “1,290 patients are on stretchers in hospital hallways waiting for beds. There are 170,000 patients waiting beyond medically recommended guidelines for surgeries, 17,000 of these are children. Of that 170,000, over 2,400 died last year waiting for surgeries and 9,000 died on waiting lists for MRIs and CT scans and 145 emergency departments are closed due to lack of staff,” added Michael Hurley, president of CUPE’s Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU).

“The current Ontario government is promoting private hospitals and private surgeries, even though it is well documented that private hospitals have higher death rates and worse outcomes than public hospitals — and that private surgeries are much more expensive. This report details clearly why the government must scrap
its campaign to reward its rich investor friends and instead do its job to properly fund our public hospitals,” stated Hurley.

Ontario ranks at or near the bottom in comparison to the other provinces in key health care funding measures, the Ontario Health Coalition states.

“Ontario ranks last of all provinces in provincial funding for all public services. In the 1990s, the Harris government’s major cuts to taxes – primarily benefiting high-income people and corporations – resulted in $15 per year less in provincial revenues that could be used for public services and social programs. Subsequently, the McGuinty government cut corporate taxes further by additional billions per year. As Ontario dropped to the bottom of the country in funding for our public services, it also dropped to near the bottom of the country in funding for health care.”

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