TORONTO, OCTOBER 16, 2020 – The Ontario Medical Association says the upcoming provincial budget should focus on ensuring patients continue to receive the care they need and deserve by reducing the millions of patient services delayed as a result of COVID-19, increasing patient access to the flu vaccine and making virtual care permanent.
As a direct result of COVID-19, Ontario patients received an alarming 13.3 million fewer services from their physicians between March and August than during the same period last year. “Doctors are very concerned about the negative downstream effects that this backlog will have on patient health – especially when piled on top of the long wait lists that patients endured before the pandemic,” said OMA President Dr. Samantha Hill. “Pre-pandemic, doctors were already working more than 50 hours a week and will do as much as we can to catch up, but government needs to make investments to help bridge the gap to help our patients.”
One of the best ways to address the COVID-19 backlog is to make virtual care permanent. The ability of all doctors to ‘see’ their patients by phone, email or video chat was introduced in March. This has been a literal lifesaver in some cases, especially for those who live in the North or rural areas, have mobility issues, or who have health issues that make trips outside the home risky during a pandemic. “It’s critically important that doctors have the option to provide any type of patient care virtually that doesn’t have to be done in person, without the patient having to make a trip to their doctor’s office,” said Dr. Hill.
Not all Ontarians can afford the cost of monthly internet services. The OMA therefore recommends that the government consider working with internet providers and other private sector partners to reduce monthly rates for those living in public housing, on Ontario Works or the Ontario Disability Support Program, and seniors receiving the Guaranteed Income Supplement. “This will help to provide all Ontario’s patients, regardless of economic status, with more equitable access to the virtual care they need,” said Dr. Hill.
A priority for doctors and the government is to dramatically increase the uptake of the flu vaccine this year. Influenza and COVID-19 are a dangerous combination, and last year, only approximately 37 percent of Ontarians 12 years or older received a flu shot. This is not acceptable during a pandemic and will only increase the number of emergency room visits, leading to more hospitalizations and fewer beds available for non-influenza and COVID-19 patients. The OMA calls on the government to fund additional models of delivery for the flu vaccine; ensure vaccination supplies are allocated appropriately with adequate PPE to administer greater numbers of flu shots in a concentrated amount of time; and work with doctors to develop strategies to target vulnerable populations, and health-care and other frontline workers.
The OMA has also asked for one-time funding create mental health educational materials, courses, tools and additional information to physicians and all other health-care worker in their workplaces, including hospitals and clinics, to ensure their continued well-being. “Doctors and other frontline health-care workers have faced extraordinary challenges during the pandemic, and they too need support to stay healthy so they can help their patients stay healthy,” said OMA CEO Allan O’Dette.
The OMA is committed to working with the government to find solutions that support front-line care, manage the second wave of the pandemic, clear the health-care backlog and help the health system recover. “The OMA and, indeed, every physician—whether in the community, hospitals, diagnostic and treatment centres, or long-term care—wants to lead our system to better health. By doing so, we collectively pave the way for a stronger and speedy economic recovery,” added Allan O’Dette.
These and other recommendations can be viewed in full in Ensuring Patient Care: OMA’s 2020–21 Pre-Budget submission.
The Ontario Medical Association represents Ontario’s 43,000-plus physicians, medical students and retired physicians, advocating for and supporting doctors while strengthening the leadership role of doctors in caring for patients. Our vision is to be the trusted voice in transforming Ontario’s health-care system.
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