Doug Ford should grow up, and start fixing Ontario’s health care crisis

Ontario’s new premier has made it clear he will not fulfill his responsibility to patients in need of health care.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford, who won the premier’s office just days ago, this week moved to stop further hiring at Ontario’s largest public hospital system, as well as to begin reducing the number of nurses on staff at several of its hospitals. Though Ford’s reasoning was that Ontario’s health-care system is too big and unwieldy, his policies are also means of cutting back on health care and limiting access to the services that patients need and deserve.

Ford’s actions have already caused the hospital system, the Ontario Health Coalition, to decry his policies, noting they will “put critical patient care at risk.”

Last year, Ontario’s health minister came out with a scathing report that chronicled inadequate availability of physicians and nursing staff at numerous Toronto area hospitals. The health minister described the situation in which patients were given only minimal care because there were not enough doctors and nurses to take care of the demand. It was “clear that we will not see the action that will begin to correct this crisis,” the report read.

There is a real crisis in Ontario’s health care system, and Ford needs to step up and make changes to make sure that service is provided to all residents in the most appropriate way. Instead, he is tearing apart the health system and putting residents at risk.

In Ontario there are 5.5 million people. Every one of them deserves high-quality health care. And every one of them can access the care they need.

Since 1973, Ontario’s government has included the 8 percent of people who do not have a private health care plan in a fixed budget called OHIP. Because the provincial government guarantees access to all Ontario residents, no matter where they live or what they earn, the public health care system cannot be “pushed off a cliff,” Health Minister Eric Hoskins told me in a recent interview. Health care does not need fixing. It needs funding.

The health-care system in Ontario is aging and aging quickly. There are actually more people than care providers to take care of them.

In 2015, my colleagues and I conducted a study that looked at the liveliness of Ontario’s hospitals, one of the best measures of how well a hospital is able to meet the demand for care from its patients. The liveliness of Ontario’s hospitals in the mid-to-late 2000s was more than 20 percent higher than in South America, the Caribbean, Europe, Asia and North America.

Yet in the most recent year we looked at — 2016 — Ontario’s hospitals were 18 percent less liveable than the rest of the world. Health care can’t be both good and equal — neither of those things are possible in Ontario, which has one of the most equitable public systems in the world.

What I hope Ford will learn from this health care crisis is that putting fewer doctors and nurses on staff will make sure that the low-quality care most patients have access to is even worse. In fact, his actions so far could put patients at risk. Ford should grow up and make sure people get the care they need, not put up barriers.

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