Hospitals will lose staff and wait times for urgent care will grow if Premier Doug Ford opens privately operated independent surgical centres to clear a backlog from the COVID-19 pandemic, warns the regulatory body for Ontario’s doctors.
The shot across the bow from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario came a day after Ford said “we need to have facilities like that to take the burden off the hospitals.”
He pledged “the same standards, the same actual (doctors) being able to go there on their spare time.”
Details are expected from the government next week. A senior government source told the Star “safeguards” will be in place.
College registrar Dr. Nancy Whitmore raised concerns that new facilities will not be connected to hospitals and will draw doctors, nurses and other medical professionals away from a public health-care system struggling with staff shortages after three gruelling years of COVID-19.
“Many months ago, we were consulted and shared our opinion that stand-alone surgical centres need to be connected to the hospital system to ensure continuity of care and patient safety,” Whitmore said in a statement Thursday.
“We also shared that this wasn’t the solution to the health-care crisis and would further tax our health human resources shortages and further increase wait times for more urgent hospital-based care,” she added.
“We have not recently been engaged in the conversation and were not informed that this was being announced or implemented.”
The senior government source, speaking confidentially to discuss internal deliberations, acknowledged Whitmore has not been contacted recently and said steps are being taken to alleviate her concerns.
“As a first step to immediately shorten wait times, the government is expanding surgeries and procedures at existing community clinics using their existing personnel, ensuring no impact on the broader system,” the source said.
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“As the government expands the role of community-based clinics to further shorten wait times for Ontarians, specific measures will be in place to protect staffing and stability in hospitals.”
At a news conference in Etobicoke on Wednesday, Ford told reporters “we need to be bold, we need to be innovative … we need to look to other provinces and countries to see what they’re doing differently and for the best ideas.”
He stressed health care must remain publicly funded and universally available.
“People don’t care where they have to go as long as it has the same regulations, same top-notch doctors that are working in the hospital,” Ford said, citing knee replacements, hip replacements and cataract operations as possibilities, and mentioning the privately owned Shouldice Hospital for hernias as an example of a model.
“These are no-brainers,” he said.
Ford also issued an assurance: “Ontarians will always access the health care they need with their OHIP card, never their credit card.”
The Liberals said any new health-care facilities must be not-for-profit entities to prevent losses of staff that could undermine the public health system.
“We don’t have enough front-line workers to care for those who need care,” interim Liberal Leader John Fraser told a news conference.
“Ontarians deserve a publicly funded health-care system where the only shareholders that count are the people they are caring for.”
Rob Ferguson is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @robferguson1
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