Premier Doug Ford promised to end hallway health care in Ontario in one year — putting a timeline on a signature campaign promise for the first time — though critics say his government is going in the opposite direction.
Speaking at the end of the Council of the Federation meeting in Saskatoon alongside other premiers, Ford responded to a question about health transfers by touting his government’s investments in health care and promising Ontarians that his government will end the practice of patients being treated in the hallways of hospitals within the next year.
“When we got elected, there was people in hallways across our province waiting to see a doctor for five hours,” he said. “We are going to end hallway health care. As we stand right now we’re down to 1,000 patients in the hallways, but I can assure the people of Ontario, over the next year we won’t have anyone in the hallways there.”
Ford just promised at COF to end hallway healthcare in Ontario within a year.
A union report that was just released charged that the government was making the situation worse. https://t.co/XFwv4IZk8b
— David Hains (@DavidHains) July 11, 2019
The new promise comes as a health advocacy group released a report saying Ford’s government is making hallway health care worse, not better, based on research from the province’s independent financial watchdog.
The Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU), which is part of CUPE Ontario, found that communities across Ontario will be shorted by hundreds of beds and thousands of hospital staff in the coming months and years under the province’s current plan.
While Ford has often repeated that his government has increased health-care funding overall, OCHU president Michael Hurley told QP Briefing the government’s funding increase of about 1 per cent amounts to a 3 per cent decrease in real dollars, due to the needs of an aging population, expensive new technology and mandated yearly increases in doctor pay at some hospitals.
“We see 37,000 people on the waiting list for long-term care by the end of five years, and we see a massive loss of capacity in the hospital sector measured against population growth and aging, and so we see the crisis of hallway medicine worsening over time, not getting better,” Hurley said. “(The government) must know what the impact of withdrawing resources would be.”
Hurley said funding needs to be increased by at least 4 per cent in order to avoid a decrease in quality of care.
”Yes, they are giving increases, but they actually are substantially less than the real operating costs,” he said. “The government made a commitment that they would end hallway medicine. Now the premier is saying he’ll end it within a year. We’re saying, OK, but that requires substantial investments. It requires you to fund the hospitals at their operating costs. It requires that you fund long-term care at least at its real costs, or care standards will slip.”
The OCHU based its study on a recent Financial Accountability Office (FAO) report which found that the government’s fiscal plan will require "historic lows" of program spending in order to be fully realized. The FAO recently released another study finding that the government’s plan is vulnerable to a “moderate” recession, which may come in the next few years.
Hurley characterized Ontario’s current moment as a “moral choice” about whether to adequately fund health care to deal with increased strain due to baby boomers aging.
He stressed that the province can “relax” those investments once the baby boomers have passed through the system.
“They’re not permanent, but they are required now,” he said.
A spokesperson for Health Minister Christine Elliott did not say whether the one-year promise was previously discussed with the minister, or whether she believes it’s reasonable. The premier’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
Travis Kann said in a statement that the government has committed to adding 15,000 new long-term care beds in five years and has announced about half of those so far, has increased health spending and created a new dental program for low-income seniors.
“By relentlessly focusing on patient experience and on better connected care, our government will reduce wait times and end hallway health care,” he said.
NDP MPP Marit Stiles said hallway health care is a “continuing crisis” that Ford is not doing enough to solve.
“Nothing that Mr. Ford and his government are doing point in any way toward getting rid of hallway health care within a year,” she said, pointing out that his government plans to cut public health units across the province.
“I don’t know how you can talk about cutting nurses, other health-care workers, closing public health units, and pretend that you can actually do away with the crisis in health care,” she said. “That’s simply unrealistic and I think that he’s misleading Ontarians.”
Before he made the promise, Ford said the federal government needed to increase the health-care transfer payments to the provinces by more than 5.2 per cent, which was the previous request from former premier Kathleen Wynne.
Since 2017, he said, the province has lost out on $400 million in federal health transfers due to the federal government’s cut of the increases from 6 per cent to the rate of growth of nominal GDP, with a minimum rate of 3 per cent.
Ford noted that the province and the federal government are investing $3.9 billion mental health and addiction services, which he said he is “passionate about.”
“You hear myself and Justin Trudeau go back and forth, but I give credit where credit is due,” Ford said. “We put $1.9 billion up and the federal government matched that $1.9 billion. And I always say I’m willing to work with any leader, any government if they’re willing to work with the province to support the people of Ontario.”
Responding to a question about how to get the federal government back to the bargaining table on health transfers, Ford said he would try to continue having conversations, but that the Liberals are “in full campaign mode right now.”
With files from Sneh Duggal.