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Will Ford's 'Your Health Act' work?

Ford government introduces a new health act promising to fix long waits for surgeries and diagnostic procedures - but will it work?
Jafar Ahmed on Unsplash
Jafar Ahmed on Unsplash

There’s a saying in communications if you want your message to be heard: “Tell them what you’re going to tell them.  Tell them.  And then tell them what you told them.”

Forgive me if you’ve heard this one – the Ford government has a plan to fix health care in our province!

There’s another saying that the opposition NDP and Liberals seem to have taken to heart – “If you say something often enough, people will start to believe it.”

As MPPs returned to Queen’s Park this week, a key piece of legislation was put forward, soon to be adopted, one would expect, called the 'Your Health Act, 2023'.  The Conservatives tell us that wait times will be reduced, procedures and diagnostic imaging will open up, nurses and doctors will soon flood the province, and local centres (Ontario Health Teams) will improve optimal patient care pathways.

“Ontario is boldly breaking with the status quo that has stifled innovation and struggled to respond to growing challenges and changing needs,” said Sylvia Jones, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health, in a recent news release (and surely at least twice more in the legislature).

The opposition, for its part, warned of the death of universal health care, that private clinics will take money and staff away from public systems, and that this two-tier system will lead to private clinics trying to ‘up-sell’ services to those who can afford them, not to mention the number of hospital operating rooms that sit empty “collecting dust.”

Marit Stiles (NDP), on her second day at Question Period as newly-minted Leader of the Opposition, said, “Ontario’s health care is in crisis ... by design.  This government has underfunded our hospitals, held down the wages of our healthcare workers, and now after years and years of neglect, this government has tabled a new bill that uses this crisis as an excuse to expand for-profit healthcare in Ontario.”  And on and on it went.

Premier Ford shot back, “Since 2018, we’ve hired 60,000 new nurses, 8,000 new doctors, we put a medical school together, we’ve spent $14 billion more, a record in Canada when it came to health care.”

Shortly after, Ford left the floor, leaving others in his caucus to answer the same questions over and over.  By the end of Question Period, a skeleton crew of both government and opposition MPPs sat in their seats to ‘debate’ the issue endlessly.

Left unsaid was a recent report from the Canadian Federation of Nurses that stated ninety-four per cent of nurses are suffering from symptoms of burnout,  there were more than 34,000 nursing vacancies (excluding nurse practitioners) and 126,000 healthcare and social assistance sector vacancies - an all-time high - in the fourth quarter of 2021, and that Canada loses anywhere from one-third to two-thirds of newly-graduated nurses within the first two years of entering the profession.

Could health care in Ontario be better?  Of course, it could be.  Is the answer more money, more staff, more hospitals, expanded services to private health clinics, changing standards to accept nurses and doctors trained in other provinces and countries, adding ‘inspecting bodies’ to audit private clinics, a patient ombudsman, requiring private-clinic physicians to have surgical privileges to work in hospitals, and to not require patients to ‘pay with their credit cards’ for basic procedures currently covered by OHIP?

In the coming years, we’ll find out if the Conservatives truly have a ‘winning plan.’