On­tario fears fate of health-care sys­tem

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - AL­LI­SON JONES

On­tario’s health min­is­ter says he is con­cerned about the sus­tain­abil­ity of the prov­ince’s health-care sys­tem, as both nurses and a busi­ness group raise sim­i­lar wor­ries and doc­tors deal with in­ter­nal tur­moil.

The con­cerns come as On­tario draws up its 2017-18 bud­get — one it has promised to bal­ance for the first time in many years, while still in­creas­ing spend­ing in the more than $50-bil­lion health file.

Premier Kathleen Wynne and Health Min­is­ter Eric Hoskins an­nounced Tues­day the prov­ince will in­vest be­tween $50 mil­lion and $100 mil­lion, the gov­ern­ment says, in a fa­cil­ity at Sun­ny­brook Health Sci­ences Cen­tre that will of­fer treat­ment such as stem cell trans­plants for blood can­cers.

Both took ques­tions on the state of On­tario’s health-care sys­tem and both used the op­por­tu­nity to point a fin­ger at the fed­eral gov­ern­ment.

“We … be­lieve we are mak­ing the right and im­por­tant in­vest­ments in our health­care sys­tem (with) a three-per-cent in­crease in the health-care bud­get over the course of the last year,” Hoskins said.

“But at the same time we are con­cerned about the sus­tain­abil­ity of the health­care sys­tem, which is why we’ve been hav­ing talks over the course of the past year, 18 months, with the fed­eral gov­ern­ment with re­gards to the fed­eral Canada Health Trans­fer.”

The fed­eral gov­ern­ment has of­fered to in­crease the trans­fer pay­ments by 3.5 per cent an­nu­ally, with ad­di­tional money for home care and men­tal health, but many prov­inces in­clud­ing On­tario say that’s not enough and have asked for a 5.2 per cent in­crease.

Wynne said On­tario will con­tinue to in­crease health-care fund­ing ev­ery year, but more fund­ing is needed.

A re­cent re­port from the prov­ince’s bud­get watchdog said that if the gov­ern­ment wants to keep growth in its health bud­get to a tar­get of 1.7 per cent over the next three years, it will need to find fur­ther sav­ings.

The gov­ern­ment has limited growth in the health sec­tor over the past few years to about two per cent, largely through cut­ting pay­ments to doc­tors and freez­ing hospi­tals’ base oper­at­ing fund­ing — though in the fall eco­nomic update it added $140 mil­lion in new health spend­ing for hospi­tals.

But the fi­nan­cial ac­count­abil­ity office said On­tario is set to be over this fis­cal year’s tar­get by $400 mil­lion, ris­ing to $900 mil­lion next year and $1.5 bil­lion in 2018-19. If the prov­ince does re­ceive ad­di­tional fund­ing from the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, the FAO’s con­clu­sions would change, it said.

The On­tario Nurses’ As­so­ci­a­tion called Tues­day for more health-care fund­ing, say­ing that more than 1,600 reg­is­tered nurse po­si­tions had been cut in a twoyear pe­riod. Hoskins said that in the past three or four years more than 2,000 nurses had been hired in hospi­tals.

An On­tario Cham­ber of Com­merce sur­vey says just 14 per cent of its mem­bers be­lieve in the sys­tem’s sus­tain­abil­ity.

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