Health plan will have local impact: MPP

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The province released its plan for healthcare reform earlier this month, which Simcoe-Grey MPP Brian Saunderson says will have an impact on the riding by helping to free up family doctors, divert non-emergency care away from hospital emergency rooms, and work through the backlog of schedules surgeries.

The release of the plan, Your Health: A Plan for Connected and Convenient Care, is keeping with the Ford government’s priority to reform the healthcare system, said Saunderson.

“It’s a system that was under stress before the pandemic, and certainly, the pandemic has taken its toll as well,” he said.

Saunderson said the change that will have the biggest impact locally is with regard to pharmacists. As of January, pharmacists are able to prescribe medications for 13 common ailments as part of a strategy to free up hospital staff and give family doctors more time for appointments with patients who need more specialized care for more serious concerns.

He said in January, pharmacists wrote 40,000 prescriptions in Ontario. As the program progresses, Saunderson said it is taking pressure off the doctors and emergency rooms.

“It’s relieving that pressure and it’s getting people the prescriptions they need much faster,” said Saunderson. It is having a big impact for all municipalities but particularly in rural Ontario. As we expand the family health teams there are still some areas where there are gaps.”

He said all municipalities in Simcoe Grey riding have been identified as high physician need and health teams in Collingwood and Alliston have been given the green light to recruit more physicians so they can expand, with the goal of ensuring each residents has access to a local family doctor.

Most controversially, the plan also includes having publicly-funded minimally invasive medical procedures done in private clinics to clear up the surgical backlog, specifically related to cataract and other eye surgeries, hips and knees.

In response to critics of a perceived privatization of the province’s universal health care system Saunderson says, “I have trouble understanding that concern when looking at the number of backlogs. We know we have a backlog of very critical surgeries and treatments people during the pandemic that weren’t able to access their surgeries. Their prognosis is compromised. Everybody is going to be able to pay for their surgeries with their OHIP card. Nobody needs to pay with their VISA card. I think people have to acknowledge that this already exists.”

He points to Shouldice Hospital, a privately owned clinic that specializes in the treatment of hernias, which are billed through OHIP.

“It’s not a new concept and when we look at the stresses our healthcare system is under I would hope that everybody would be in agreement that the faster you can get your surgery, the quicker we can deal with the issues you are facing, the better your prognosis will be and the healthier our community will be,” said Saunderson. “At the same time, as we get through that backlog we’ll be making sure that going forward anyone who requires surgery is going to have quicker access to the system. So for the greater health of the province I don’t have a problem with that.”

The Ford government’s public sector wage cap has been blamed for nurses leaving hospitals under an increasingly heavy workload.

Saunderson acknowledges staffing is a “pinch point” but sees solutions ahead with the opening of two new medical schools, additional nursing and PSW programs, subsidies for healthcare professionals in high priority programs, recruitment in underserved rural communities, and efforts to expedite the certification of foreign trained nurses and doctors.

“We’re working with stakeholders to make sure we can get newly trained professionals, but also the retention of our existing professionals,” he said.

Other highlights include: Enhancing the community paramedicine program by expanding at-home treatments and strategies to reduce offload times at emergency rooms due to a lack of available beds; Increasing access to CT scans by 150 hours in Collingwood and 200 hours in Alliston; extending home care and resources for mental health and addictions.

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