As hospital departments across Ontario have been forced to close their doors and reduce hours in recent weeks, Premier Doug Ford said Wednesday that the province’s health care system is still meeting the needs of Ontarians.
“I want to be clear, Ontarians will continue to have access to the care they need when they need it,” Ford said in an announcement in Stratford, Ont.
According to the Ontario Nurses Association (ONA), about 25 Ontario hospitals were forced to downsize their facilities last long weekend due to staff shortages.
Ford said hospitals and emergency departments are now feeling “increased pressure” but also said surgeries are being performed at “almost 90% of pre-pandemic rates” and nine out of 10 people in emergency departments “can be cared for.” within healthy parameters.”
“We’re throwing everything we can at the health system,” Ford said, saying the province is working to add more internationally trained nurses, but already 760 have been added to the system.
SEE | Ford responds to criticism of the province’s health management:
It’s the first time in weeks that Ford has fielded questions amid an ongoing health care staffing crisis and contract negotiations with educators.
Health care worker burnout and illness, coupled with an influx of people seeking treatment previously delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, have forced some hospitals to curtail services and temporarily close emergency departments.
Opposition MPPs say the government is not acting
At a news conference Tuesday morning, Ontario Liberal MPPs John Fraser and Dr. Adil Shamji said Health Minister Sylvia Jones and the Prime Minister as the health sector faces unprecedented pressure.
“Ontario’s nurses, doctors and health professionals have been warning the Ford government for months about the crisis we are currently experiencing in our hospitals,” Fraser said.
“It’s a very serious situation, it’s very serious. The problem is that we don’t have enough people to provide the care that people need. Nurses are leaving the profession at twice the rate of normal and it’s not slowing down.”
At a press conference Wednesday, Ford said other provinces are feeling the pressure and renewed calls for increased federal government funding — although an April report by Ontario’s Financial Reporting Bureau on budget results for the first year of the pandemic found the province’s total per capita spending was the lowest in Canada in 2020, with health spending the lowest.
“This is not a problem unique to Ontario,” Ford said.
No commitment was made to repeal Bill 124
Nursing groups, hospital leaders and other health workers and advocates have said burnout after more than two years on the front lines of COVID-19 without proper compensation has caused people to leave the profession in droves.
Many nurses point to Bill 124 as a major source of concern, saying the legislation, which limited public sector pay raises to one percent a year for three years, has devalued their work.
Ford noted that the provision would expire and would not apply to their next contract negotiations, but stopped short of saying he would rescind it, adding that the government had offered the nurses a $5,000 bonus.
Asked Wednesday if he would commit to paying them more, Ford said the bonus was a “thank you” and that no one thinks more highly of the world of nurses and other health care workers than he does.