The Ontario election: Has health care been abandoned?
The Ontario health care system, has it been fixed or abandoned? This is a question that CAPA members must consider and raise in the press, at town hall meetings and with the candidates. Why, because the spotlight in this campaign is focusing on other priorities, such as education and crime. It isn’t that these issues are not important; it’s that Ontario’s health system is just as important but it is not receiving the same level of attention. It has become a minor issue.
The government has worked to improve the surgical waiting times for hip and knee replacements. It has passed the new “Transparent Drug System for Patients Act” that has overhauled the Ontario Drug Program. And it has looked to efficiencies in health care delivery and established 14 “Local Health Integrated Networks” (LHINs) and several “Family Health Team” (FHTs) to deliver health care services that are responsive to patient/consumer needs, faster and community oriented. But is the job done?
Let’s look at two of these areas: Surgical wait times and the Transparent Drug System for Patients Act.
The surgical wait time for hip and knee replacements has decreased in Ontario over the last three years but it is still on average 100 days over the target time of 180 days. The government strategy to decrease the wait time by building more surgeries is expensive and unsustainable. So what should the government be focusing on? First is the primary reason for the surgeries, which is arthritis. The government needs to dedicate funds to a system that ensures early detection and proper treatment of arthritis. Second is patient support pre and post surgery. Timely and adequate support, education and information from physiotherapists, occupational therapists, social workers and homecare services make a difference. Studies have shown that patients do better and recover faster from surgeries if they are able to stay as healthy as possible both physically and mentally despite the need for surgery. Maintaining health requires health specific education. Granted, some support services are available. Unfortunately some are in danger of closing due to insufficient funding and others are not being utilized because patients and their health care team are unaware of their existence or don’t know how to access them.
The Transparent Drug Systems for Patients Act was passed into law over a year ago. It proclaimed, among other things, easier access to medication, and more patient involvement and transparency in the decision making process. While progress is being made in terms of patient/consumer involvement, the promise of greater transparency and easier access to medication is slow and has not yet been realized. Two patients/consumers are sitting on the Committee to Evaluate Drugs (CED); a patient representative sits on the Pharmacy Council; but the new Citizens Council has yet to be formed. Physicians are still using the old cumbersome system of accessing medication on the conditional listing forms for their patients. And the better web site designed specifically to communicate issues around the new Drug Act has not materialized.
There are still issues to be addressed in Ontario’s health care system. Medication and surgeries that relieve arthritis pain, slow or halt the progression of the disease and increase quality of life are important for people with arthritis. But so too is patient support and education because it enhances the patient’s knowledge and enables them to get the most out of these treatments.
CAPA encourages you to write, phone and answer your door to the candidates running for election on October 10th in your riding. Talk to them about your concerns. Your voice and vote count.