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Doug Ford’s Government Wants to Privatize Parts of the Health Care System To Reduce COVID-19 Surgical Backlog

“I'd call this the corporatization of health care”

The Ford government’s plan to help Ontario’s hospitals clear their surgery backlog involves further privatizing parts of the province’s health care system.

One of the Ford government’s consistent responses to COVID-19 has included measures aimed at saving space in Ontario’s long-underfunded hospitals by cancelling “non-essential” or elective surgical procedures.

After three successive lockdowns, many hospitals now face a steep surgery backlog.

In response, Ford’s government promised a $312 million plan to streamline procedures, boost capacity and, seemingly, to expand private healthcare.

An Ontario government announcement at the end of July promised:

“Increase health system capacity through community alternatives to hospital care: A new investment of up to $24 million to increase volumes of low-risk, publicly funded surgical and diagnostic services in independent health facilities and to support the licensing of new independent health facilities for existing services.”

Independent Health Facilities are non-hospital health sites that perform medically-necessary operations typically done in-hospital. While some IHFs are non-profits, according to the Ontario Health Coalition, 97% of current IHFs are for-profit companies.

Back in January, the Ford government announced it was looking to license “independent health facilities” to perform eye surgeries in place of hospitals. The Ministry of Health issued a “call for applications” on January 15 and clarified applicants could be a “corporation” rather than an opthamologist:

“The Applicant does not need to be an ophthalmologist. The Applicant could be a corporation that operates a Health Facility that meets the criteria for submitting an Application.”

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University of Calgary law professor Lorian Hardcastle told PressProgress “the government is contracting with private facilities to deliver publicly-funded services, as opposed to delivering those surgeries in public hospitals.”

And that poses risks for equal access to healthcare.

“These facilities target the least complex and most simple cases,” Hardcastle said.

“We have a finite number of health professionals, and if they are drawn to working at these private facilities, these least complex cases could end up receiving treatment more quickly, while those with more complex medical needs who often require surgery more urgently may have to wait longer for care in public hospitals.”

Dr. Danyaal Raza, a St. Michael’s Hospital, Unity Health Toronto physician and board member of Canadian Doctors For Medicare, said introducing a profit-motive into Ontario’s health care system could exploit patients and raise ethical concerns.

“I’d call this the corporatization of health care,” Raza told PressProgress.“This is problematic not only because of the cost to government, but because many for-profit centres levy extra fees to patients in the form of ‘upselling’ services.

“Patients may not realize they have the option to decline, and may not make a difference to their medical outcomes.”

 

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