The Ontario government announced Monday that for-profit private medical clinics will be allowed to perform routine surgeries and there will be no extra costs or charges for the patients.
The announcement was made during an online news conference from a Toronto surgical clinic where Premier Doug Ford and health minister Sylvia Jones said the move will take pressure off regular hospital surgeries and reduce wait times for the routine surgeries.
This would include such things as cataract surgeries (a corrective eye procedure) as well as surgeries to replace knee and hip joints.
Along with reducing the surgery backlog in Ontario, Ford and Jones both pledged that the move to private clinics would not result in any additional charges for individual patients.
"And we need to be clear; Ontarians will always access the health care they need with their OHIP card, not their credit card," Jones said.
She added that the Ministry of Health has been working to significantly reduce wait times for diagnostic imaging with CT scans and MRIs.
"This year, we've invested $300 million as part of our surgical recovery strategy to help us clear the COVID-19 surgery backlog, so you can get the care you need faster. This strategy helped Ontario hospitals operate (perform surgeries) on evenings and weekends to ensure as many patients as possible receive the care they needed," Jones said. “However, Ontarians are still waiting too long for their treatment for surgery, and more needs to be done.”
Jones said the ministry is unfolding a three-step process to ease the backlog in the coming year. The first priority she said is to step up the number of cataract surgeries, which has some of the longest wait times.
She said new partnerships with community surgical and diagnostic centres in Windsor, Kitchener-Waterloo and Ottawa will add 14,000 additional cataract surgeries that will be performed each year.
She said the second step will continue to focus on cataract surgeries as well as MRI and CT imaging, and colonoscopy and endoscopy procedures. Most of these procedures will be regarded as non-urgent, low-risk and minimally invasive and, in addition to shortening wait times, will allow hospitals to focus their efforts and resources on more complex and high-risk surgeries, said the minister.
Jones said the third step will become apparent in February when the government approves new legislation to allow existing community diagnostic centres to conduct more MRI and CT scanning so that patients can access publicly funded diagnostic services faster and closer to home.
She said the changes are bold but that's what Ontario needs to make things better for patients on wait-lists right now.
"Bold solutions are necessary to improve the health care system as we know it today. Receiving an early diagnosis or surgery earlier than expected, can have a life altering impact on a patient's life and treatment path," Jones said.
Ford reiterated Jones' statement that expanding health care to private clinics does not mean Ontario residents have to pay up front for medical service.
"We also need to be clear; Ontarians will always access health care with their OHIP card, never their credit card," Ford said.
Ford said he wasn't just spouting numbers.
"As I said before, the status quo is not acceptable. These aren't just numbers. This change, it represents tens of thousands of people, all with a chronic illness, who will now get the surgery they need sooner, every year. “
Ford said Ontario surgeons need more capacity and the ability to perform more urgent surgeries in hospitals. He said the private clinics will free up more time and capacity at operating rooms in hospitals.
Ontario’s opposition New Democrats do not agree with the changes announced by Ford.
"Doug Ford is misleading you when he says that pouring money into for-profit health clinics will have no impact on you," said a joint statement from NDP Health critic France Gélinas and incoming Ontario NDP Leader Marit Stiles.
Ford has been “scheming” to privatize public health care for years, “starving” the public system of funding, “suppressing” the wages of health care workers and pushing the system to the brink of collapse, said the joint statement.
"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," the statement continued.
Len Gillis covers health care and mining for Sudbury.com.