Premier Doug Ford unveils plan to invest in private surgical clinics
Ontario is moving thousands of surgeries and diagnostic procedures out of hospitals and into specialized community clinics to help ease the COVID-19 backlog.
The change will free up hospitals for the highest levels of “life-saving” care, Premier Doug Ford said Monday.
“Hospitals will do the critical surgeries,” Ford told reporters in detailing the plan, which has raised concerns that doctors, nurses and other staff will leave hospitals to work in independent health facilities registered with the government.
Health Minister Sylvia Jones said this will help reduce wait times and eliminate surgical backlogs.
“We need to be bold, innovative and creative,” she said. “We need to build on the spirit of collaboration on display across the health-care sector.”
The government said surgical wait lists should return to pre-pandemic levels by March 2023 under this plan.
The first step would be to invest in “new partnerships with community surgical and diagnostic centres” to reduce the waitlist for cataract surgeries, ensuring 14,000 more surgeries will be performed each year.
Starting later this year, the plan provides for an additional 49,000 hours of MRI and CT scans, another 4,800 cataract replacements, 900 other ophthalmic surgeries, 1,000 “minimally invasive” gynecological surgeries and 2,845 plastic surgeries such as for hand soft tissue problems.
In 2024, more hip and knee replacements will be added at private centres.
Jones said the Health Ministry is accepting applications from community-based clinics to provide procedures in addition to the 900 already approved as independent health facilities.
The surgical backlog now stands at about 206,000 procedures.
“We’re rerouting the easier surgeries that are taking up about 50 per cent of the capacity of the hospitals, causing people to wait for the serious surgeries as well,” Ford said.
The announcement was also warned by health-care experts about the possibilities of exacerbated staffing shortages in hospitals.
She and Ford repeated pledges from last week that patients will continue to pay “with their OHIP card not their credit card.”
But critics have warned patients could face increased pressures to pay out of their own pockets for additional products and services not covered by the provincial health insurance plan.
Experts have questioned why the Ford government would invest further in independent centres instead of providing support to the public sector.
Last week the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario said any expansion of private surgical centres would create challenges for hospitals.
“Many months ago, we were consulted and shared our opinion that stand-alone surgical centers need to be connected to the hospital system to ensure continuity of care and patient safety,” Registrar and CEO Dr. Nancy Whitmore said in a statement.
“We also shared that this wasn’t the solution to the health care crisis and would further tax our health human resources shortages and further increase wait times for more urgent hospital-based care.”
Dr. Michael Warner, a physician at Toronto’s Michael Garron Hospital, said unless the government plans on training a new group of staff, it’s “unclear how this plan will not reduce staffing levels in public hospitals.”
“Where the people going to come without cannibalizing staff for public hospitals,” he asked on Twitter before the announcement.
Part of the article was reported by CP24.