Patient access to hospital care and services will be greatly diminished if the Doug Ford Conservatives move forward with future funding cuts to health care that in 2023, will climb to $255 million for Hamilton’s hospitals.
Looking at detailed fiscal information from Ontario’s financial accountability office and the provincial Conservatives own budget numbers, CUPE and its hospital division, the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU/CUPE) have released projections for the huge bedding, staffing and funding shortfalls ahead for Ontario’s hospitals.
The Conservative’s April 2019 budget will cut hospital operating costs in real terms by 3 per cent per year on average. Hamilton hospitals will be making $42 million in cuts this year. But with cuts building to 15 per cent across the province by 2023, Hamilton hospitals can expect $153 million in cuts by 2021 and $255 million by 2023. Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) has cut its budget by $200 million since 2011 and St. Joseph’s by $94 million.
“There is nothing left to trim,” says Dave Murphy, president of CUPE 7800, which represents 3,500 staff at HHS. “The Conservatives promised to end the problem of hallway medicine. But what I see here is a pathway to increased overcrowding and an intensification of hallway medicine and it only gets worse as we move down the timeline. We are calling on the Conservatives to honour their commitment and to fund hospitals at least at their real operating costs.”
These future Conservative cuts will unfold just as Hamilton will see a steady population increase of over 3 per cent over five years. Hamilton’s senior population is also growing and growing rapidly. About 30 per cent of the city’s population – more than 167,000 people - are now over 55 years old. That number is projected to climb to 260,000 (a 56 per cent increase) over the next two decades.
CUPE released a report in August estimating that Hamilton hospitals will have to cut 76 beds and 602 staff over five years to meet the Conservatives’ budget plan. When population growth and aging are factored, the impact will be felt as a cut of 247 beds and 1,936 staff in the local hospitals today.
HHS has had an occupancy rate of over 100 per cent since August 2016 and St. Joseph’s is also operating at full capacity. “In the United Kingdom, hospital occupancy rates over 85 per cent are considered unsafe because of the heightened risk of medical error and the risk of increased transmission of hospital acquired infections,” said Hurley. “As importantly there is no dignity for patients in hallways where there is no washroom and no ability to have a confidential discussion with a doctor or a nurse or a chaplain or a family member.”
Ontario has the lowest number of beds to population of any province and “there is a tidal wave of demographics underway, hospitals need an investment and additional capacity, not cuts,” said Hurley.