In advance of a speech by Dr. Brian Day – President of the Canadian Medical Association and the founder of a private surgical facility in British Columbia – the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO), the Ontario Coalition of Senior Citizens’ Organizations and the Ontario Health Coalition offered publicly funded solutions to improve care. They include: using all health professionals to their full potential; building stronger community services; making full use of diagnostic equipment; and dedicating staff to specialized teams for surgical procedures.
The groups, representing tens of thousands of people in the province, including registered nurses, seniors and more than 400 grassroots community organizations, are sounding the alarm bell because Dr. Day has frequently advocated private health insurance and has spoken out in favour of a market model to fund hospitals as a way to shorten wait lists. Dr. Day’s advocacy for health-care’s privatization has been backed up by the CMA which, this summer, called for increased use of private clinics and for physicians to be allowed to practice simultaneously in both the public and private health-care systems.
RNAO’s President, Mary Ferguson-Pare, says that Dr. Day’s and the CMA’s ideas are dangerous for the system because private insurance inevitably creates one line of people who can afford to pay for care, and another for those who can’t. And funding hospitals based on the number of procedures performed ignores evidence from British doctors who have pointed out that this system can lead to the cancellation of services that aren’t profitable, including those for children.
“Nurses are appalled that the Canadian Medical Association is advocating these ideas,” says RNAO Executive Director Doris Grinspun. “We want to work with our physician colleagues to strengthen Medicare, not to dismantle it. We have found ways to improve access to care for everyone – not just those who can afford to pay – and we have to keep working towards this. That’s why I’m calling on Dr. Day to speak with me in an honest public debate on this topic,” she adds.
RNAO was supported today by others in the health-care community who want to see the system remain publicly funded. That includes Dr. Robert Bell, President and CEO of Toronto’s University Health Network and an orthopedic surgeon. "Strong publicly funded health care is a crucial element of Canada's economic competitiveness and social cohesion," he says.
There is plenty of evidence that proves health-care challenges can be solved within the public, not-for-profit health system. That includes Toronto’s Kensington Eye Institute, which performs cataract surgeries. This specialized clinic helped decrease wait times for those surgeries by 58 per cent in less than two years. Clinics like these both reduce wait times and free up hospital space for more complex eye surgeries. That’s the evidence Natalie Mehra, Director of the Ontario Health Coalition, says policy makers must rely on.
"There is no connection between the privatization championed by Brian
Day and improved access to care. In fact, Dr. Day's proposals for hospital funding
and for privatization simply benefit his own private business interests and
dismantle public health coverage for all Canadians,” Mehra says. "Why
should a wealthy person get knee surgery before a middle-class person with a
more urgent case?”
Bea Levis, a member of the Ontario Coalition of Senior Citizens’ Organizations, agrees, remembering a time when those without money did have to wait for care. “The older generation has had a taste of for-profit care, and it led to a lot of misery and inability to get the care that was needed,” she says. “We don’t want to go back to those days.”
“We are unified in our interest to protect the public by strengthening and expanding Medicare for all Canadians. We will continue to build on the public’s values and make the public system even more responsive, efficient and accountable to Canadians,” says Ferguson-Pare. “Now is the time to accelerate the positive reforms that are taking root across the nation, and right here in Ontario, to serve the needs of all Ontarians, not just those who can pay.”
The Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO) is the professional association representing registered nurses wherever they practise in Ontario. Since 1925, RNAO has lobbied for healthy public policy, promoted excellence in nursing practice, increased nurses’ contribution to shaping the health-care system, and influenced decisions that affect nurses and the public they serve.