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Not everyone is in favour of private surgery clinics in Ontario

Concern expressed about whether private clinics would lure more doctors and nurses away from hospitals  
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Ontario's new plan to reduce the hospital surgery backlog by allowing surgeries to take place in private clinics is not the best solution to the problem according to some agencies involved in health care.

Ford's announcement on Monday is that Ontario will permit private clinics to perform routine procedures such as cataract surgeries and hip and knee replacements in a bid to take pressure off the hospitals where more urgent and complex surgeries can be done. Both he and Health Minister Sylvia Jones pledged this will not mean “credit card” health care. Ford and Jones said all procedures will be covered by OHIP.

The Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario (RNAO) called the plan short-sighted. The RNAO, which represents more than 50,000 nurses, nurse practitioners and nursing students in Ontario, questions the ability of private clinics to deal with the provincial nursing shortage. 

"How can increasing capacity in other centres not impact on the already stretched health human resources and not deplete hospital, long-term care, and community services of their nurses? Staff have to come from somewhere," said a news release from RNAO political action executive network officer Maria Casas of Sudbury.

Casas said the plan "opens the door" to Ontario providing more private and for-profit medical services, and could eventually lead to a system of prioritized health care for the rich, at the expense of the poor. 

But there is still the staffing concern, according to Ontario's official opposition New Democrats. They argue the private clinic plan will attract doctors and nurses out of hospitals and into private care clinics.

"Make no mistake, pushing people desperate for surgeries to for-profit clinics will mean people paying for care with their credit cards. It will mean health care workers pulled out of hospitals," said NDP Health critic France Gélinas, who is also the MPP for Nickel Belt.

On the other side of the coin, the Ontario government news release that outlined details of the new plan on Monday was stacked with comments of people and groups supporting the plan. 

Dr. Rose Zacharias, the president of the Ontario Medical Association (OMA), spoke in favour of it. 

"Experience elsewhere has shown that providing outpatient surgeries and procedures in the community greatly improves the patient experience. Patients get their surgeries sooner, have lower rates of infection and get to go home the same day," Zacharias said.

She added the OMA looks forward to working with the province on a plan to ensure the surgery centres do not take resources away from hospitals or make the medical staffing shortage any worse.

The concern of staffing was also shared by Dr. David Jacobs, the president of the Ontario Association of Radiologists.

"As the government moves forward with these investments and system improvements, protecting hospitals' health human resources will be critical to the success of these initiatives," Jacobs said.

Dr. Amit Atrey, a trauma surgeon at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto, endorsed the overall idea, but he also commented on the staffing issue in the news release.

"As a surgeon, I feel any measure that will allow for more surgeries and cut wait times should be considered," he said.

He added that he expected "proper safeguards" to ensure that hospital staffing would not be impacted.

"We look forward to working with the Ontario government to develop this model to best serve Ontarians," Atrey said.

Dr. Kevin Smith, the president and CEO of Toronto's University Health Network, also spoke in favour of the new surgery plan, but he also highlighted the need to protect human resources.

"Today's announcement, focused on day surgeries which provide patients with improved quality of life, is an important step in helping to reduce the surgical backlog and getting people the surgeries they need in a timely manner," said Smith. 

"I look forward to working with the government, system partners and the potential centre's to develop the framework needed to maintain the integrity of our public system regarding staffing and quality assurance."

Len Gillis covers health care and mining for

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Len Gillis

About the Author: Len Gillis

Graduating from the Journalism program at Canadore College in the 1970s, Gillis has spent most of his career reporting on news events across Northern Ontario with several radio, television and newspaper companies. He also spent time as a hardrock miner.
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