Advocacy group accuses Ontario of trying to ‘dismantle’ public health-care system


A health-care advocacy group in Ontario is accusing the Ford government of deliberately underfunding public health care to benefit for-profit clinics in the province.

A new report by the Ontario Health Coalition has compiled a master list of unused operating room capacity — space the organization says the government could use instead of relying on private clinics to solve the surgical backlog.

“Hundreds of millions of dollars in public money is being used to dismantle and privatize our public hospitals, robbing the public to build the private,” Natalie Mehra, executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition, said as the report was released.

The report is based on freedom of information requests, government budget documents and media reports, among other sources.

At the heart of its findings, the report said multiple hospitals had operating rooms that are functional but not being used. It found Alexandria, Brockville, Cambridge, Hawkesbury, Kitchener, London, North Bay, Oakville, Sault Ste. Marie, St. Catharines, Southampton and Wiarton all have unused rooms. The report also suggested operating rooms in other places, including Oshawa, Barrie and Kingston, are being underused through afternoon, evening or weekend closures.

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A spokesperson for Minister of Health Sylvia Jones said the Ontario Health Coalition was “ideologically opposed to any action our government is taking” to expand access to health care.

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“We are continuing to take action to build on the progress we have achieved including having a record-breaking year in 2023, adding 17,000 new nurses and 2,400 new physicians to our healthcare workforce,” the spokesperson said, adding the surgical backlog had been reduced to pre-pandemic levels.

At the beginning of 2023, the Ford government announced it would be moving ahead with a permanent change to how health care operates in the province.

The three-part plan is set for some procedures and diagnostics to take place in non-hospital settings.

The policy, which allows private businesses to profit from health care funded by provincial insurance, is designed to culminate with moving some hip and knee replacements in private settings.

The government said health care would remain free at the point of use and promised the policy would make medical appointments. Opposition politicians and advocacy groups cried foul, saying it was part of a plan to privatize the health system.

The Ontario Health Coalition report also argues the government has imposed “real dollar” cuts to the health budget, forcing some local hospitals to make difficult decisions.

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It said for-profit clinics receive higher payments than public hospitals, something the advocacy group suggests will incentivize more private clinics and move people away from hospitals.

“The current provincial government has chronically underspent its health care budget, even as our public hospitals have been thrown into deficits and crisis,” the report said. “The fact is that the privatization of our public hospitals is a policy choice looking for a rationale.”

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