Liberals make wait time pledge

Globe and Mail Update – news – Liberals make wait time pledge
March 25, 2008 at 5:28 PM EDT

Patients in hospital emergency rooms will endure a shorter wait time under a pledge made by the Ontario government in its budget yesterday.

Finance Minister Dwight Duncan expanded the province’s wait-time strategy to include emergency departments and general surgeries – key indicators of how the health-care sector is functioning as a whole. But there were no specific targets released.

“The emergency department is a vitally important component of the broader health-care system. It is the place we depend on in our most vulnerable moments,” the budget document stated.

The Liberal government promised $180-million over the next three years to lower wait times in emergency departments, fulfilling a key election campaign promise. Another $64-million has been pegged for 12,400 additional general surgeries starting in the upcoming fiscal year and increasing to about 30,000 surgeries by 2010-11.

The wait-time strategy, launched in 2004, has targeted six areas: cancer surgery, some cardiac procedures, cataract surgery, hip and knee replacements, pediatric surgeries and MRI/CT scans.

Since 2005, cataract surgery wait times are down 191 days or 61 per cent, while waiting for a knee replacement surgery has been reduced 196 days or 45 per cent. Cancer surgery wait times are down 12 days or 15 per cent, the budget document said.

Yesterday’s budget promised modest increases to the health-care sector. Spending in the upcoming fiscal year is projected to be $40.4-billion, increasing to $44.7-billion in 2010-11.

Some of the money will be used to add 50 more family health teams over the next three years, mainly in rural and under-serviced communities.

The government also plans to spend $154-million over three years on Ontario’s cancer screening strategy to detect and treat breast, cervical and colorectal cancer. This will also cover the cost of prostate-specific antigen tests and to extend the human papilloma virus vaccination program after federal funding ends.

Another $17-million over the next three years will fund five new MRI machines that will result in about 21,900 additional MRI scans and reduce wait times for diagnostic services. The government is still determining where the MRI machines will be located, even though the budget document said that they will be located in high-demand areas.

To help avert a nursing shortage, the government promised yesterday to spend $500-million over the next three years to hire 9,000 more nurses. About 30,000 Ontario nurses are expected to retire in the next five years, but the government said there is enough funding in the system to replace them.

“Our strong health-care system is one of our key competitive advantages. It helps make the province an attractive place for business to invest and create jobs,” Mr. Duncan said yesterday.

“Our government is building on the success of the last four years by continuing to invest in and improve universal public health care.”

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