Health care advocates stop Ontario from creating private hospitals

"Thank you so much!!! to the thousands of individual concerned citizens who called or emailed your own MPP, or the Minister's office, or the Premier. We know that your efforts made a huge difference." — Ontario Health Coalition

Toronto (04 Dec. 2017) - The Ontario Health Coalition (OHC) is reporting a victory in preventing the province from opening the door to private hospitals.

​In a statement from the OHC, they said that "we are pleased to be able to report that the Minister of Health, Dr. Eric Hoskins, and Premier Kathleen Wynne agreed with our concerns about private hospitals in Schedule 9 of Bill 160, which is currently going through Ontario's Legislature."

Schedule 9 would repeal the Private Hospitals Act, which, since 1973, has banned all future private hospitals. The act gave the Minister unfettered powers to revoke a private hospital's licence and powers to stop the transfer (or sale) of a private hospital, in the public interest.

Recently, when Centric, the multinational giant private health corporation, tried to buy the Shouldice Hospital in Ontario, advocates in Ontario used the legislation to ask the Minister to stop it. The ban in the Private Hospitals Act has worked to stop new private hospitals from opening in Ontario for an entire generation. 

People speaking out prevented the province from repealing legislation

The OHC believes it was the efforts of individual Ontarians that persuaded the government to abandon its plan to remove restrictions on private hospitals. It’s believed that the number of people speaking out through phone calls and emails to MPPs and the Minister, or by packing the legislature galleries at Queens Park, persuaded the provincial government to change its mind.  

"Thank you so much!!! to the thousands of individual concerned citizens who called or emailed your own MPP, or the Minister's office, or the Premier. We know that your efforts made a huge difference. Thank you also to all of those who came out to the legislature on Wednesday to watch Question Period from the galleries. The group was greeted by the Health Minister, who said that he was working with us to get the language right and make sure the ban on private hospitals is crystal clear."

The Ontario Health Coalition also expressed it's appreciation to Andrea Horwath,Ontario's NDP Leader,  who greeted those coming to Queens Park to protect the ban on private hospitals and who asked tough questions about this issue on both Tuesday and Wednesday in the legislature.

The OHC also wanted to thanks some individuals and organizations. "Many thanks are also due to the lawyers Steven Barrett and Ethan Poskanzer who worked night and day to help with this, to the staff in the Minister's and Premier's offices who also worked night and day to help,  and to OCHU/CUPE for providing for the legal team, to UNIFOR who contacted the Premier's office and asked for help to resolve this, to the OHC Board and all our affiliates -- from the nurses' organizations, ONA and the RNAO, to the health professionals at OPSEU/ and NUPGE, to seniors' groups like OCSCO and the Older Canadians Network, and so many many more,  who put extra effort in to raise this issue in hearings, with MPPs, among your memberships, and so on. This was a team effort. Thank you all for making it successful!"

Threat to Medicare in the province

Public health care advocates were extremely concerned about the proposed legislation. As it was written, it would lift the 44-year ban on private hospitals and enable the existing 1,000 private clinics (98 per cent of which are for-profit) in Ontario to turn into private hospitals.

Following public outcry, the Health Minister and the Premier agreed with these concerns and have worked to amend the legislation. Proposed changes to the legislation will go to the Standing Committee on General Government. Then the legislation will return to the full legislature for final reading and debate before it is passed into law. The legislature will rise on December 14, so it is anticipated that the process will be complete by then.

Private clinics still a significant problem

While pleased that the Minister and Premier recognized the gravity of the issue regarding private hospitals and acted to stop them, the OHC points out that there are still 1,000+ private clinics, the vast majority of which are for-profit and many of them chains. Many of these private clinics charge extra user fees to patients for medical services in violation of the Canada Health Act.

Public Medicare in Canada provides that we pay ahead of time through our taxes for care, and we share that money across income classes and generations, so that care is there for everyone when they need it. Extra user-fees violate the cornerstone principles of Medicare in our country. They drive up costs. They cause hardship, particularly to seniors and persons with chronic illness who are often patients most in need.

Health and safety issues at private clinics

The clinics have also shown serious breaches of safety and quality. One private endoscopy clinic in Ottawa failed to properly sterilize its equipment. Public Health had to contact 6,800 patients and advise them to be tested for HIV, as a result. Studies have shown that the private colonoscopy clinics in Toronto have a high rate of tests that do not reach the [entire] colon, therefore do not tell the patient accurately whether they have cancer or not, for example. A patient died on the operating room table in a Toronto clinic where she was being given liposuction. 

Privatization of hospital services into private clinics is not in the public interest. For many patients, the increase in private clinics has fragmented care, forcing them to travel to multiple different locations on multiple different days. It is not easy having to travel from a public hospital emergency or specialist, to a private lab, to a private MRI clinic somewhere else, to a private diagnostic clinic of another sort somewhere else, and so on. For many people this actually requires travel from town-to-town, as services have been entirely cut from their local hospitals. 

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The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 370,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. — NUPGE