New healthcare bill a major step towards privatization in Ontario, says Scarborough Southwest MPP

Ontario's Bill 60, the Your Health Act, has critics concerned that it puts private healthcare above the public system. This file photo shows Michael Garron Hospital in East York.

By AMARACHI AMADIKE, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

To address pressures on Ontario’s healthcare system, including long wait times for certain surgeries, the Progressive Conservative government of Premier Doug Ford recently introduced Bill 60, the Your Health Act. Critics are calling the bill a major step towards privatization of the sector in Ontario.

Scarborough Southwest NDP MPP Doly Begum told Beach Metro Community News that she believes Bill 60 has “put one more nail in the [province’s] privatization agenda”.

However, advocates for the legislation argue that the provision of publicly funded healthcare operated on a for-profit basis already exists in the province. Procedures such as ultrasounds, X-rays, and pulmonary function tests are all performed in the private sector with public funding, they say.

Bill 60 now expands those services to include cataract surgeries, MRIs, CT scans, and minimally invasive gynecological surgeries. Knee and hip replacements will also be added under the Ontario Health Insurance Plan.

This has critics growing increasingly wary about how the bill will affect the already struggling public health sector as they anticipate nurses will transition towards work in private clinics for better pay that they can earn in the public system.

“The main issues [healthcare experts] have right now is not availability of clinics,” said Begum. “They don’t need the building structure per se. There are hospitals that have had to close because they did not have enough staff.”

Begum said that it’s “not the four walls and private management” that’s needed to save Ontario’s healthcare. Rather, proper funding that keeps nurses in the field and attracts more of them is what’s needed.

“You’re not really addressing the issue when you move towards a private system,” she said.

Between 2019 and 2022, general surgery saw the highest increase in demand across the province at 51 per cent (27,438). As of the March 2023 report by Ontario Health, 79 per cent of people waiting for cataract surgeries are treated within their target time.

Although patients with emergency conditions (Priority 1) are seen immediately, most of the setback comes from the Priority 3 patients who need to be treated within a target time of 84 days. But, these patients, on average, have had to wait 140 days between the time of making the decision to have the surgery to the day of the procedure.

The Ontario government said its aim is to reduce this backlog of patients. However, many critics wonder if taking staff away from the public sector simply relocates the problem rather than fixing it.

“Not only does it move the problem, it actually creates another one,” said Begum. “What you’ve done now is created a two-tiered healthcare system.”

During Bill 60’s committee hearing, community members and healthcare workers voiced their disapproval of the legislation. Their suggestions led to recommendations of 74 amendments to the Your Health Act, none of which were reflected in final version of the bill.

One of the proposed amendments revolved around regulations and oversight due to the private health sector’s history, including the high number of deaths in for-profit, private-sector seniors homes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“That was the part that got myself and a lot of my colleagues very worried,” said Begum. “I’m quite curious as to why the government would not want to have that oversight. If you look around the province, most deaths happen in private clinics.”

In response to these fears, Ontario’s government has said that expert organizations will work alongside Ontario Health and the Ministry of Health in order to ensure a proficient level of service at the private clinics. However, there has not yet been any mechanism put in place to ensure this.

One way the Province of Ontario has tried to protect the healthcare system, and prevent northern regions from losing workers to private entities in more popular southern regions like Toronto, is by implementing the Learn and Stay Program ​​which provides funding for students studying in priority programs in Ontario communities that are in need.

To receive the grant, a graduate must work in the same region of their studies for 180 days for every full year of study funded by the grant. Failure to do so will transform the grant into a repayable loan. According to Ontario’s Minister of Health Sylvia Jones, the program has attracted a record number of students in the field.

Amarachi Amadike is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter for Beach Metro Community News. His reporting is funded by the Government of Canada through its Local Journalism Initiative.

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