UPDATED: Provincial health-reform bill passes, but advocates, workers and opposition politicians vow to keep fighting
Posted: May 9, 2023
(May 8th, 2023)
By: Elizabeth Payne, The Ottawa Citizen
Ontario’s contentious Bill 60, which allows private clinics to provide more surgeries and health procedures in the province, was passed into law Monday — even as organizations representing health-care workers, advocates and opposition politicians vowed to continue fighting it.
Premier Doug Ford said in the Legislature that the bill will shorten patient waiting lists and bring more convenient health care closer to home for residents. The Progressive Conservative government has emphasized that all procedures are and will continue to be covered by OHIP.
“We are going to give people the care they need in rapid fashion,” Ford said.
But opponents say the bill will contribute to further staffing shortages that are stunting public hospitals. They also cite recent evidence from Quebec showing that private surgery costs taxpayers more than operations done in public hospitals. Other research from around the world suggests patient outcomes are better in publicly operated hospitals.
Ontario NDP Leader Marit Stiles said the government has ignored calls for amendments to the legislation that would better protect patients from being “upsold” on additional treatments, improve regulation of the clinics, and prevent private, for-profit clinics from poaching scarce nursing and other staff from the public health system. Private operators are required to show a staffing plan.
“I am very concerned about what this bill means for the future of Ontario,” Stiles said.
“The truth is every study shows patient outcomes are worse and it costs the public system more.”
Critics point to private orthopedic surgeries done by a group called AOAO (Academic Orthopedic Surgical Associates) that have been taking place at The Ottawa Hospital’s Riverside campus on Saturdays in recent months as an example. Many nurses working there come from the public hospital system and are being paid more for their work with the private group.
“In Ottawa, a private surgical clinic is paying double to staff to work on weekends and, as a result, The Ottawa Hospital is starved of those staff and their ability to work,” said Michael Hurley, president of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions.
The Ottawa Hospital, which is dealing with nursing shortages, says it has been closely monitoring the private surgeries and that they are not impacting the public system. It also says the private partnership means it has freed operating rooms for more patients. Until recently, though, some early-stage breast cancer patients at the hospital faced among the longest waits in the province, forcing some to pay for private surgery, a situation the hospital says it has since improved.
Under the newly passed legislation, the province plans to expand hip and knee surgeries to privately operated clinics outside of hospitals. AOAO is among organizations looking at setting up a stand-alone clinic to do those surgeries during the week, instead of just on Saturdays, in partnership with The Ottawa Hospital.
Natalie Mehra, who heads the Ontario Health Coalition said, despite promises, the bill effectively has “no guardrails, no inspection system and no one is enforcing laws for extra billing. There is no excuse for this.”
The Ontario Health Coalition has launched a referendum to gauge public attitudes toward the legislation, something she said has taken place with little public consultation. Polling stations for the referendum will be set up in Ottawa and other locations. Information is available at publichospitalvote.ca.
Ottawa South MPP and Interim Liberal Leader John Fraser said passage of the bill poses a serious threat to the health-care system.
“There should be only one shareholder when it comes to our health-care system, and that’s the patient.”
Erin Ariss, who is provincial president of the Ontario Nurses Association, said Bill 60 is part of a dangerous path of provincewide health-care privatization that will further erode patient care.
The province has already expanded private cataract surgeries, including to two private operators in Ottawa — Herzig, and the Focus Eye Centre which is in partnership with The Ottawa Hospital.