An independent, non-partisan research institute has released a new report slamming the Ontario government’s decision to privatize some surgical procedures.
The report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives was released earlier this month and examines the government’s plan to expand the types of surgical and diagnostic procedures that are allowed to be performed outside of hospitals at for-profit facilities.
The province has stated that its rationale for increasing the use of for-profit care is to increase capacity and reduce wait times. However, report author Andrew Longhurst, a political economist and health policy researcher, said expanding the for-profit sector is unlikely to do either.
“Capacity depends on the availability of qualified staff, which is unchanged by the addition of profit,” he said in the report. “Expanded outsourcing is likely to worsen public hospital staffing shortages that cause longer waits. For-profit surgical and diagnostic delivery comes at the expense of public hospitals and undermines efforts to reduce surgical wait times over the long term.”
Longhurst said increased for-profit delivery risks expanding two-tier health care in Canada through unlawful extra-billing. It also introduces a financial conflict of interest in medical decision-making, which can lead to upselling, self-referrals, and clinically unnecessary procedures.
Longhurst added that for-profit delivery ultimately costs more and increases risks to patient safety and care quality.
However, by focusing on evidence-based policy strategies to increase and improve surgical and diagnostic volumes in hospitals, the Ontario government can reduce wait times.
The report recommends that the provincial government reevaluate its plans and refocus efforts on improving the public system
“An evidence-based approach would begin by increasing funding to staff idle operating rooms in public hospitals,” said Longhurst. “Ontario does not lack the physical space and equipment to improve wait times for surgeries and medical imaging; what is missing is the health care workforce necessary to do the work.”
The recent report, which was partially funded by the Canadian Union of Public Employees and the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions, was developed using Freedom of Information requests, financial and statistical analysis, and a review of the research literature and policy experience.