Budget bandage on a wounded healthcare system

By MPP Toby Barrett

Recent budget announcements have done little to alleviate tensions in our healthcare sector.  The coming year, will see continued compromised care for people when at their most vulnerable.
We do see a $60 million increase in hospital budgets for 2016. Obviously after a four-year freeze in base funding, any help is welcome but it translates into a merely one per cent increase. The pressure continues for hospitals like Norfolk General, Tillsonburg District Memorial, West Haldimand, and Dunnville War Memorial. And although gaming revenues in the ballpark of $107 million have in the past been allocated to hospitals for operations – the 2016 Budget has ended this.
Clearly, a one per cent increase will not address shortfalls created over the past four years. We continue to fear significant and damaging measures such as the slashing of hospital beds, and compromising complex care at long-term care facilities.  Further, this token increase will not be enough to hire back the 500 registered nurses who were laid off in Toronto, Hamilton, Windsor and Kitchener so far this year.
In addition to the four-year freeze, the Wynne government has cut $54 million of the Canada Health Transfer, $815 million from physician services and $50 million from physiotherapy for seniors.
This winter, I travelled with the Finance Committee for pre-budget consultations – we heard from nurses, doctors, patients, and long-term care workers who described a system that can be summed up as a mess. We heard of bed cuts, service cuts, downsizing and consolidation – all within a climate of rising costs for electricity, drugs, medical supplies and employee compensation.
I question whether the Premier’s MPPs reported anything they heard and learned at the consultations. And we wonder why the electorate becomes cynical. Imagine preparing a report, travelling to present it to the committee and then having your advice and concerns completely overlooked!
At some point we will all eventually suffer from this government’s waste and mismanagement when we need healthcare. For example, the Ontario Health Coalition (OHC) charges our larger hospitals are the most dangerously overcrowded of any jurisdiction in the developed world.
On August 1, seniors with incomes above the low-income threshold of $19,300 for singles, and $32,300 for couples, will see their annual deductible for the Ontario Drug Benefit jump from $100 to $170. The prescription copayment also goes from $6.11 to $7.11.
The medical profession feels duped by a Premier who campaigned to restore funding to healthcare and promised an end to cuts. As a result, organizations like the OHC warn, “We will continue to organize community-by-community to insist that Ontario restore hospital funding to at least the average of the rest of the provinces in Canada.”
My colleagues and I submitted recommendations to the government prior to the budget being released. Our recommendations were based on conversations with people across the province. We are adamant the Budget include a plan to properly manage Ontario’s health care system, including reversing the current and planned cuts to doctors, nurses and hospitals.
When it comes to healthcare, the noose has been loosened a wee bit but not nearly enough to give hospitals, healthcare workers and patients enough breathing room to resuscitate a properly resourced system.