Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash
Doug Ford, Ontario’s recently re-elected Premier, continues to drain resources from Ontario’s public healthcare system, exacerbating the nurse shortage and wait times, as he conspicuously touts the private “option” as a benevolent additive to our collapsing public healthcare system.
Ford made headlines this summer when he swallowed a bee during a televised interview. What hasn’t received the same amount of spotlight, but was arguably more brutal for the Premier, was when he had to swallow his pride as a swarm of journalists grilled him during a live press conference where he was commenting on Ontario’s nurse shortages.
Ford remained optimistic at the event as he appealed to the globality of healthcare struggles due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the large amount of hospital beds he bought for the province. Meanwhile, the journalists present kept attempting to get Ford to address the culpability of Bill 124 — a wage-suppression bill that capped wage increases to one per cent for three years for public sector healthcare workers such as nurses and healthcare professionals — which his council passed in 2019 when it comes to the cause of the shortages. His answer: hospitals can negotiate wages with their workers when the bill’s mandate has expired.
Behind the scenes, Ford has been at the fore of a ruthless push to the privatization of health services for Canadians. Lobbying in healthcare during the 2020-21 fiscal years were higher than any past year as the office of Ontario’s Integrity Commissioner reports that healthcare has become the most registered sector for lobbyists at 1,137 registrations, which overshadows trade and economic development. Another red herring in the periphery of all this is the consolidation of health services by big businesses such as Loblaws as seen in the parent companies acquisition of Lifemart for $845 million, making Shoppers Drug Mart a private competitor when it comes to healthcare.
In 2019 the New Democratic Party (NDP) leaked a draft bill from the Progressive Conservative (PC) party called the Health System Efficiency Act that spoke of a “Super Agency” in healthcare that would allow the Health Minister to mandate mergers and privatization for any health services. Think of hospitals as giant health service malls with all sorts of different for-profit agencies for different treatments and you start to get an image of what the PCs have been planning. The PCs authenticated the drafted bill soon after the leak. On top of this, Ontario spends the least on public healthcare in Canada.
Back in March of 2022, Ford started to contract private surgery organizations as well as suggesting the idea of private “health clinics” that are essentially hospitals. The precedent has been that private hospitals in Ontario are illegal as per the Private Hospitals Act of 1971. This is being attacked by the Ford cabinet.
What will it look like if we continue in this direction?
Ontario hospitals will have less regulatory oversight as for-profit incentives trump those of the public good. Furthermore, because of weaning budgets, public health facilities are increasingly throwing lab work to private lab chains where testing is less robust.
Anecdotally, I had some tests done this summer by a private lab whose parent company, Labcorp — a U.S. headquartered S&P 500 company — saw a 2020 revenue of $13.98 billion USD.
My experience was noticeably hurried and impersonal, I had my blood taken and instructions of how to perform my tests at home and what they meant done in less than five minutes as the clinic was quite busy. The clinician who saw me was more thorough in explaining why I should sign up for their online “plus program” that allows you to see results for the price of roughly $15 than about my health concerns, of which they understandably didn’t have many answers as they had three test booths and a waiting room of over 10 people. When I declined to sign up for their service I was given an unclear answer about how I’d find my results, accordingly I decided to sign up for their service as I feared I wouldn’t be updated quickly. I was then given a card and a request to rate my clinician well online as I was shuffled out of the clinic.
Increasingly, if things continue this way people will have less health services afforded to them. There is no reason to believe private healthcare will help with issues such as shortages and wait times writ large, quite the opposite. Sure, more efficient services will be available to those who can afford it. However, healthcare is a fundamental right and continuing to fight for free healthcare and funding to public health services in Ontario is paramount as we face a hostile provincial government interested in corporate greed over public well being.