Kingston patients’ access to hospital care and services will be further diminished if the Doug Ford Conservatives move forward with future funding cuts to health care that, in 2023, will climb to $66.9 million for Kingston Health Sciences Centre (KHSC). These cuts will unfold as Kingston’s population is aging and KHSC struggles with insufficient patient beds, high overcrowding rates, hallway health care and patient surges due to the yearly flu season.
Looking at detailed fiscal information from Ontario’s financial accountability office and the provincial Conservatives own budget numbers, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), and its hospital division, the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU/CUPE), have (over the last year) released projections for the huge bed, staff 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. Admitting that the province’s funding formula has disadvantaged many hospitals, in mid-October, the PCs increased funding marginally for small and mid-sized hospitals. Despite that small influx of funding, the PC cuts (based on the spring 2019 budget) build to 14.7 per cent by 2023.
But the cuts will intensify. KHSC will see a projected funding cut of $25.9 million by 2020-2021 and $66.9 million by 2023-2024.
“There is nothing left to trim,” says Michael Hurley, president of OCHU/CUPE. “The Conservatives promised to end the problem of hallway medicine. But what we see is a pathway to increased overcrowding and 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 Kingston’s senior population is also growing. Between 30 and 35 per cent of the Kingston population will be over 65 years old in the next two decades. The share of the older senior population (75+ age group) is expected to almost triple over the next 30 years from 8 per cent in 2016 to 21 per cent by 2046.
KHSC, along with many Ontario hospitals, are consistently operating at full or overcapacity. 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.”
CUPE released a report earlier this summer estimating that, when population and aging are factored, the impact on Kingston will be felt as a cut of 91 beds and 790 staff in the local hospitals today.
Ontario has the lowest number of beds-to-population of any province and “there is a tidal wave of demographics underway – hospitals need investment and additional capacity, not cuts,” said Hurley.