April 3, 2015 – The Ontario government’s latest round of cuts April 1 — and doctors believe those cuts will make it harder to treat our patients.
This is because Queen’s Park stopped talking with Ontario’s doctors back in January and is cutting services to save money.
You may have heard doctors walked away from the bargaining table. We didn’t. We made a counter-offer that recognizes the government’s serious economic issues while minimizing the impact on our patients. But all we heard back is — cut.
If your own health weren’t being put at risk, there’d be no need for me to write this article. But your health care is at risk. Not just possibly, but certainly. Here’s why:
Today in Ontario, close to a million people still don’t have a family doctor. That will only get worse. The much-praised Family Health Teams that allow family doctors to work with physicians, nurses and others, have been shifted into neutral by government. Now, new doctors can’t join these teams except in regions the government labels as “high need” — progress is about to come to a standstill. The fact is, almost every community in Ontario has thousands of patients who don’t have a family doctor.
In early February, the provincial government decreed that medical services be cut by an average of 5 per cent. This includes a cut to all doctors’ fees by 3 per cent as well as cuts to primary care and specialist services originally designed to assist complex patients. These cuts were not negotiated with us. During negotiations we were told to “take it or leave it.” When we rejected this “offer” to cut fees and programs, and made a very reasonable counter-offer, the government imposed something even more severe than what they offered at the table.
The government’s own figures project the need for medical care will increase by about 3 per cent every year as our population grows, ages and becomes more complex. Yet they have committed to fund just 1.25 per cent, or less than half of that growth.
The government’s motivation may seem well-intended: over the past decade, it has created a huge deficit and now needs to slay it. The ultimate victims of these cuts are everyone from the stroke patient who will have to wait longer for treatment to the young mother who can’t find a family doctor to care for her family.
But the provincial government has an answer to the crisis: make the doctors pay the difference. The entire difference. Ontario’s doctors proposed to freeze fees for the next two years, if government agreed to fund the growth — but the government said: Not good enough!
Instead, it insisted we find $580 million more in savings through cuts to medical services. That’s on top of the $850 million we saved with the 4 per cent cut we accepted just two years ago.
The government also demanded that we pay for the “growth.”
“Growth” is the 140,000 new people coming into Ontario every year plus the increasing costs to look after an aging population. If doctors see more patients than the arbitrary limit the government has set — government will force physicians to pay back any amount over their imposed limit.
There is no give and take. If there is an outbreak like SARS or measles, doctors will provide more services than the government’s imposed limit allows because more patients will need care.
This isn’t about a pay cut as some government officials would have you believe. It’s about the fact that government is trying to make up their fiscal shortfall by not paying doctors to do the work that patients need.
No wonder we objected. But we certainly didn’t walk away.
We’re asking the Ontario government to do what other provincial governments have done: fully fund a public health care system that we pay for through our taxes. We’re asking government to respect doctors. We’re asking them to respect you.
As a cancer surgeon in Hamilton, I train new surgeons and it frustrates me that they’re ready to care for people who are waiting, but because of the government underfunding of other parts of the system — like hospitals — in addition to physician services, these new doctors can’t treat those patients today because of a lack of access to operating rooms or hospital beds. So those surgeons will instead leave Ontario, as will the new family doctors who can’t join teams.
Doctors swear to do no harm. It’s time the provincial government took the same oath.
Dr. Ved Tandan,
President of the Ontario Medical Association