The Ontario government is refuting a new report from the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU) that predicts Peterborough Regional Health Centre (PRHC) will lose 53 beds and 280 staff over the next five years due to cuts in provincial funding.
On Wednesday, the OCHU — the hospital wing of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) — held a press conference in Peterborough to unveil its report, which warns the Progressive Conservative government’s proposed budget plan for the next five years will lead to “larger cuts to hospitals” than previously estimated.
The report, titled Protecting What Matters Most, concludes the government’s spending plan needs billions of dollars in extra, unidentified and unannounced cuts to public services to meet its savings targets. The report compiled data over three months from the Ministry of Finance, the Financial Accountability Office, Statistics Canada and the Canadian Institute for Health Information.
OCHU president Michael Hurley says the cuts will increase until they account for $5.2 billion out of $8 billion in total cuts required by the government’s fiscal plan in 2023-24.
The report concludes that Ontario hospitals face proposed real per capita funding cuts of more than 15 per cent over five years. OCHU says if that level of cuts was applied today in Ontario, it would mean 4,012 fewer beds and 28,187 fewer staff.
For Peterborough Regional Health Centre, the report predicts 53 fewer beds and 280 fewer hospital staff within five years. The hospital currently has about 700 staff.
“Even though the cuts the PCs have identified to date to health care have been major and painful, $5.2 billion is many times more,” said Hurley.
“In communities like Peterborough, already dealing with higher rates of disease, cuts at this level will hurt patients greatly and diminish already challenged hospital capacity.
“The PCs are creating a patient access crisis, and hallway health care will get much worse.”
However, in a statement to Global News Peterborough late Wednesday, the Ministry of Health refuted the union’s numbers.
“Contrary to what the OCHU and CUPE may say, this year our government is investing $1.3 billion more in health care than last year, which is helping fund priority areas,” said Travis Kann, a spokesperson for Deputy Premier and Minister of Health Christine Elliott.
The ministry also outlined investments, including an additional $384 million this year for hospital operations, which represents a two per increase in funding.
“This includes $67 million in funding to sustain over 700 hospital beds to help hospitals experiencing high-occupancy challenges, as well as over $5 million more in funding for Peterborough Regional Health Centre for this year,” said Kann.
However, Laurie Hatton, president of CUPE Local 1943 at PRHC, said the hospital needs four per cent more in funding per year to meet its basic costs. The union says the province is offering one per cent.
“I can tell you, as a 29-year employee of the hospital system, we are about as efficient as you’re going to get,” Hatton said during Wednesday’s press conference.
“You look at the numbers, you track it down through what our hospital will be able to do with that funding and you realize that there could be some additional pressures on the people I represent. But more importantly, we are more concerned that the patients of the community will not be receiving the same services that we have now.”
Hurley calls the one per cent “the best of five years.”
“It gets worse from here,” he said. “This year’s cut, in real terms, compounds with next year’s cut.”
Hurley said the findings show the government is not “protecting what matters most.”
“Rather, their planned cuts for hospitals are deeper than for other programs,” he said. “Their plans will sharply intensify the current problems patients have with accessing care in hospitals. Unfortunately, the premier and health minister are pretending to fix the hospital capacity problem by diverting attention to health system restructuring and skirting around the coming cuts and service privatizations.”
The OCHU says the likely cuts are similar to those in the 1990s under the Mike Harris PC government and represent about a $1,100-per-person cut for all program spending.
“They lasted only a couple of years before that government was required to reverse its policy in its third year following widespread community pressure and increased program spending by eight per cent,” the OCHU said. “The Ford Progressive Conservative government plans at least five years of austerity — there are no reports from the government yet about what it plans to do in years six and beyond.”
However, the ministry argues its $27-billion investment in hospital infrastructure projects over the next 10 years is set to create more than 3,000 new hospital beds across Ontario.
“This investment is a critical component of our plan to end hallway health care across Ontario,” said Kann.
Other health-related investments the Ontario government is making, according to the Ministry of Health, include:
- An additional $267 million in funding for home and community care with new investments of $124 million in home care and $20 million in community care
- An additional $72 million in 2019-20 for the long-term care sector to expand and improve bed capacity, including nearly $800,000 more in operational funding for local Peterborough long-term care homes as compared to last year
- Nearly $100 million for a new dental program for low-income seniors, which will help reduce the more than 60,000 emergency visits that happen every year as a result of preventable dental issues
- $174 million this year for community-based mental health and addictions programs, including over $15 million for local providers in Peterborough
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