Ford government’s controversial plan for private medical clinics will begin this spring

Posted on January 21, 2024 in Health Policy Context

Source: — Authors: – Provincial Politics
January 17, 2024.   By Rob Ferguson, Queen’s Park Bureau

The Ontario government will approve more privately owned clinics to provide diagnostic services like CTs and MRIs and surgeries starting April 1.

Ontario is forging ahead with its controversial plan to shorten wait times for patients by approving more privately owned clinics to provide CT scans, MRIs, and hip and knee replacements.

But the change — which critics fear will bleed the public health system of doctors, nurses and other resources at a time when patients face record waits in hospital emergency rooms — remains months away from taking shape.

The province won’t begin taking applications for clinics until this spring, Health Minister Sylvia Jones said Wednesday, adding clinics will be prioritized for areas with long wait-lists.”We aren’t accepting a status quo that leaves too many people waiting too long for care,” she added, saying services will “always be paid for with your OHIP card, never a credit card.”

The initial plan had been to begin accepting applications from prospective clinics last summer.

To alleviate concerns about quality of care, new clinics and more than 900 already operating will be overseen starting April 1 by the independent, non-profit organization Accreditation Canada, which monitors hospitals and clinics across Canada and in 35 countries.

Chief executive Leslee Thompson pledged to “develop and deliver a high-quality oversight and assessment program” and said reports will be made public.

“The average wait for a hospital bed is 22 hours in this province … wait times for publicly funded health care will become even longer.”

Tabuns warned more privately owned clinics raised the spectre of patients being asked to pay for extras not covered by OHIP, despite assurances from the health minister.

“The pressure on people to pay for unnecessary treatments, unnecessary equipment, to be upsold, is very strong,” he added, warning of a slippery slope to “two-tier health care” where patients who are willing to pay extra get faster care.

Ontario’s auditor general warned in 2021 that cataract surgery patients — who suffer blurry vision as they age — are the most vulnerable to “misleading sales practices” in some circumstance.

Jones said the new services in private clinics will also include gastrointestinal endoscopies, with hip and knee replacements to be the first orthopedic surgeries offered.

Having more diagnostic services available more conveniently will speed treatment, she maintained.

Ontario currently has more than 900 private clinics in operation, mainly providing X-rays and other diagnostic services, and many of them predate Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government. There are only a handful of surgery clinics. It’s not known how many more will be licensed but four new cataract surgery clinics have opened in the last year to meet demand, getting 14,000 patients off waiting lists that grew during the COVID-19 pandemic.

While there has been fierce public debate about the merits of more private clinics, Windsor Regional Hospital has hailed the private Windsor Surgery Centre — staffed by ophthalmologists with hospital privileges — for taking on OHIP-funded cataract surgeries it could not handle.

Liberal Leader Bonnie Crombie said the looming call from Jones for more private clinics is “an open invitation for corporations to profit off our publicly funded health-care system.”

Shamji said he fears new clinics will be concentrated in heavily populated areas — not in under-serviced areas — because that will provide private investors who bankroll them with the best bang for their buck.

“The urban centres will offer the best economies of scale that will maximize profits for these surgical centres,” he told the Star.

A law called the Your Health Act was passed by Ford’s majority government last May to clear the way for more private clinics.

The Ontario Nurses’ Association said private clinics could poach nurses and other medical professionals from hospitals struggling with staff shortages, making it tougher to care for patients in the public health care system.

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