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February 14, 2024

Letter to the Editor: Our healthcare is at a critical point

Tired healthcare worker

LETTER TO THE EDITOR — We need healthcare throughout our lives. Canadians depend on universal access and have taken it for granted. However, it is clear that there are loopholes in the Canada Health Act and we have a provincial government that is committed to rapidly expanding privatization far beyond what other governing parties have done. We are at a critical point where individuals need to decide whether they are willing to fight to prevent a user pay system from replacing what we have experienced. I will discuss the quality of care in private hospitals, waitlists and the shortage of family physicians.

Rigorous studies show the quality of care is poorer in private hospitals. You are 9.5% more likely to die in a private clinic. They skimp on trained staff to increase profits. Some dialysis clinics have higher death rates. They use shorter dialysis times to push more patients through. Colonoscopy clinics have resulted in more missed cancers. Faulty sterilization and poor safety practices resulted in 7,000 patients in a for-profit clinic being potentially exposed to HIV/hepatitis.

You have the right to request to go to a public hospital or laboratory when your doctor gives you a referral. You can ask that this preference is recorded on your chart. Ideally you should only accept a private clinic if there is no other option. If a private clinic tells you they are not covered by OHIP what they are really saying is, “we charge above what OHIP pays us.”

The Grey Bruce Health Coalition is fighting against privatization to save individuals and the government money, to ensure the best care and to preserve access based on need not the ability to pay. The Federal government transfers money to provinces with conditions attached but it is the responsibility of each province to decide how to spend that money. I never want to see the day when Canadians have medical debt, go bankrupt or go without care. This is not scare mongering. It is the reality in many countries.

Waitlists grow longer when for-profit hospitals poach staff from the public system. There is only one pool of staff and it is depleted. For-profit clinics do not create a single staff person. People who can’t pay to jump the queue are pushed further to the back of growing waitlists. Alberta privatized laboratory services during the pandemic. This resulted in longer wait times and complaints that patient care was negatively affected. In 2023 Alberta returned laboratory services to public hospitals.

Three quarters of public hospital operating rooms are unused. If these ORs were funded to work evenings and weekends and others were reopened they could clear the surgery backlogs much faster than it is taking to build a duplicate private system. I do not want my taxes spent on private clinics.

If you are told the waitlist in a public facility is too long you can find out what wait times are by going to: ontariohealth.ca/public-reporting/wait-times. Private hospitals advertise shorter wait-times but they also exaggerate public wait-times. A patient has a right to request to be referred outside their area for any procedure. Knowing where the waitlist is shorter helps the doctor to make the referral. Creating a central provincial booking agency would significantly reduce wait times.

There is a critical shortage of primary care providers. Grey Bruce has over 30,000 people without a family doctor and Ontario has 2.3 million. A recent poll from the Ontario Medical Association says 3/4 of primary care doctors are considering leaving family medicine, many retiring early. The reasons; increasing costs, stress, excessive unpaid administration, and the recent government decision to limit their wage increase to 1-2%. Dr. D. Berger, chair of the OMA section representing general and family doctors said, “ If adding $110 million for health teams is the government's idea of a solution, they clearly do not understand the problem.” Personally I think they understand but just don’t care. The province has a multi billion dollar reserve fund, much of it unspent covid funds and Federal health transfer payments. One billion is equal to a thousand million. So $110 million is a token not a solution to fixing primary care.

The options to no family doctor are: private clinic; a walk-in clinic if one is near you; pharmacists; emergency department; private virtual care; or Brightshores virtual care which is actually a private clinic in Hamilton. None of these options provide the critically important patient to doctor relationship nor the continuity of care that a family doctor provides.

I urge everyone to pay attention to what is happening and to get involved. You may be able to pay for private care but can you guarantee that your children and grandchildren will be able to? The Grey Bruce Health Coalition has a plan of action. We need your help. Please join the facebook group - Grey Bruce Health Coalition or look at ontariohealthcoalition.ca for up to date information. You can also email greybrucecountyhc@gmail.com

Norah Beatty
Co-chair, Grey Bruce Health Coalition

 


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