The Ontario government says it supports Ottawa’s call for health care data reporting as part of a funding deal with the provinces and territories.
The pledge for better data is one of Ottawa’s conditions for any new funding agreements. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is set to meet with the premiers next Tuesday in Ottawa as part of a meeting to address their repeated demands for increased federal health care transfers.
The commitment is part of a health care plan released by Ontario on Thursday that includes $30-million for new primary care teams, as well as details about billions in health care spending over the next decade.
“If we don’t measure our performance, we can’t fully see how gaps in service are affecting patient care and come up with solutions to fix them quickly,” the plan reads.
“That’s why Ontario is in full support of the federal government’s call for national health care data reporting as part of its funding partnership with provinces and territories. Sharing information can only help us learn from each other and grow stronger.”
Ontario plans to continuously measure progress, the document says, including by tracking people’s ability to obtain services such as primary care and mental health care, wait times for MRI and CT scans, and emergency room wait times. The government says it will also track the expansion of the health care work force.
Premier Doug Ford had previously signalled that his government would be on board with the data reporting requirements of the federal government in order to reach a deal.
“Everyone has to be accountable,” he said at a press conference last month. “So that’s the least of our issues.”
On Wednesday, Mr. Ford said he expects to strike a deal with Ottawa shortly after next week’s meeting, calling the talks “collaborative.” The premiers have been asking for a federal funding increase to 35 from 22 per cent of costs, although Mr. Ford has softened his stance on the specific figure in recent days. The Ontario document also does not contain the 35 per cent figure, although Health Minister Sylvia Jones repeated the demand on Thursday.
As part of its new plan, Ontario says it will spend $30-million to create up to 18 “interprofessional” health teams comprised of nurses, doctors and social workers to help “bridge the gap” in primary care for vulnerable and marginalized patients.
The document also reiterates the previously announced plan to expand the use of publicly funded, for-profit private clinics to reduce the backlog of wait times for procedures such as cataract surgeries, followed by hip and knee surgeries next year.
In a statement released Thursday, opposition NDP health critic France Gélina called instead for more money to spent in the public system to increase staff and surgical capacity.
Ms. Gélinas said the government needs to implement “a massive recruitment and retention plan,” starting with backing down from a court appeal of Bill 124 – legislation passed in 2019 that capped wage increases for public-sector workers, including nurses, to 1 per cent annually for a three-year period.
The government’s plan also highlights a recent drop in hospital patients waiting for a long-term care bed, which it attributes to legislation, known as Bill 7, passed last fall that allowed hospitals to assign patients to long-term care homes not of their choosing.
Since the legislation came into effect in September, the government says the backlog has dropped by more than 25 per cent, with 4,845 patients accepting a placement. Almost 4,000 patients have voluntarily added additional homes to their list of preferred options.
The government says this move to quickly turn over beds has allowed hospitals to perform more surgeries, reducing the waitlist by 25,000 since August.
As Ontario unveiled its latest plans, primary-care researchers in the province revealed that the number of Ontarians without a family doctor increased during the pandemic.
More than 2.2-million Ontarians did not have access to a regular primary care provider as of last March, a 24-per-cent increase from March of 2020, when nearly 1.8 million Ontarians did not have a family doctor. That means 14.7 per cent of Ontarians were unable to find a family doctor in March of 2022, up from 12.2 per cent two years earlier.
Those figures come from the Inspire primary health care group, a network of university-based researchers who mined health administrative data, including Ontario Health Insurance Plan billings.
Kamila Premji, an Ottawa family doctor and a researcher with the Inspire team, said it was disappointing but not surprising to see so many Ontarians lose their family doctors over the past two years.
Previous research from the team showed that in 2019, about 1.7-million Ontarians were patients of family doctors who were 65 or older. Some of those doctors retired earlier than planned because of the pandemic, Dr. Premji said, and not enough new physicians stepped into the breach.
“Part of our concern as we see this trend evolve is that patients who have aged with their family doctors are increasingly going to lose a family doctor to retirement,” she said.
Despite the downward trend, Ontario still outperforms its peers on primary care according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information. It says 90.6 per cent of Ontarians have access to a regular health-care provider – better than the Canadian average of 85.6 per cent and the best of any province or territory. However, those figures are based on surveys, which are considered less reliable than health administrative data.
Mekalai Kumanan, president of the Ontario College of Family Physicians, said she was buoyed to see more funding for health teams in the province’s announcement on Thursday.
“Parts of the announcement today certainly are a step in the right direction,” said Dr. Kumanan, a family doctor in Cambridge. “Ideally, we want to land in a place where we have extended team-based care across the province so that every Ontarian can access care from a team of providers.”