While Premier Doug Ford announced last week that, within a year, no more patients would receive care in hospital hallways, the spring 2019 provincial budget and an economic review by Ontario’s Financial Accountability Office (FAO) point to hallway medicine getting much worse as health care cuts intensify, reports released at Queen’s Park today show.

Based on the recent budget and economic review of Ontario’s Financial Accountability Office, the government’s spending plan will cut over 3 per cent a year in real terms from hospital budgets alone and these cuts compound, leading to a staggering 15 per cent in acute care in 2023-2024. The PC’s appear to have no funding plan to improve capacity, and it is not clear that the health minister, Christine Elliott, thinks the one-year timeframe is realistic given the amputation of funding. 

“Already the real-dollar funding cuts to Ontario’s hospitals are biting into patient care. Hospitals are cancelling operating room days and surgeries to cut costs, closing clinics and, on last count, about 500 full-time nurses, health professionals and vital support staff amounting to about 900,000 hours of patient care,” said Natalie Mehra, director of the Ontario Health Coalition, a province-wide public health care advocacy group.

For the Progressive Conservative government to keep to its proposed budget plan for the next five years, they will need to make larger cuts to hospitals (and health care generally) than previously estimated – over $8 billion by 2023-24. The PCs are creating a patient access crisis and hallway health care will worsen. The Premier can’t wish hallway health care away. Ontario will need to invest 1.27 billion next year in hospitals, long-term care, public health and paramedic service just to tread water and maintain existing services, said Michael Hurley, president of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions/CUPE.

The PC government plans at least five years of austerity. The FAO notes the cuts are similar to the level of cuts in the 1990s, and equal to about 10 per cent in real terms for all program spending – about a $1,100 per person cut (in constant dollars) for all program spending. Currently, the PCs are funding hospitals at less than 2 per cent. But hospitals face inflationary costs of about 5 per cent a year. Premier Ford recognized that recently when he joined other provincial Premiers in calling on the federal government to increase the growth rate of the Canada Health Transfer to 5.2 per cent annually, saying the increase was critical to cutting hospital wait times and ending hallway care in Ontario.

In addition to the analysis of the FAO report, Hurley released ‘Protecting What Matters Most,’ a report based on the 2019 budget restraint numbers, population and aging growth and inflationary costs that shows that for hospitals, the real per capita funding cuts proposed province-wide over five years, are more than 15 per cent. If that level of cuts were applied to Ontario hospitals today province-wide, that would mean 4,012 fewer beds and 28,187 fewer staff to serve our current population.

“Our findings show that the PCs are not doing what they said they would do and ‘protecting what matters most.’ Rather, their planned cuts for hospitals are deeper than for other programs. 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 away from the coming cuts and service privatization,” said Hurley.