Ont. health minister disputes wait-times survey
Published Thursday, February 15, 2007 8:18AM EST
TORONTO - Ontario is working toward measuring and reducing wait times for all surgeries but there's not enough money in provincial coffers right now to fund the extra nurses, anesthesiologists and operating rooms, Health Minister George Smitherman said Wednesday.
Opposition parties are calling on the government to track wait times after a survey suggested patients who need elective surgery that doesn't fall within the government's five priority areas are waiting longer for operations.
While Smitherman dismissed the Ontario Medical Association survey of 640 surgeons as "questionable," he said the province will likely expand wait-time tracking beyond hip and knee replacements, cataract surgery, cancer surgery and MRI scans to see where patients are waiting the longest for care.
"That will give us a much better opportunity to direct funding in the appropriate way," Smitherman said. "But anybody who pretends we have the resource base to do everything at the same time is really just pretending.
"We don't have enough nurses, we don't have enough anesthesiologists and we certainly don't have enough operating room capacity - financial resources are an issue."
The province will move slowly, Smitherman said, who promised that Ontario patients will eventually "see reductions in wait times in a wide variety of areas."
Opposition critics say that's not good enough for patients who are waiting longer for necessary surgeries.
Conservative Leader John Tory said he knows of one patient who requires a foot operation but who likely won't get the care she needs until the ailment forces a hip replacement - one of the province's priority surgeries.
Instead of dismissing the voice of Ontario doctors who say patients are suffering because of the wait-time strategy, Tory said the Liberals should start tracking wait times for all procedures.
"You've got to make sure you are not cannabalizing health care and making sure that you speed up procedures for one group of people and slow it down for another," Tory said. "You have to start monitoring the waiting periods for the other procedures."
Hilary Short, president of the Ontario Hospital Association, said the province's hospitals would like to see the wait-time strategy expanded to all surgeries eventually.
This would help ensure hospitals aren't favouring particular procedures because they are tracked and held to an agreement by the province, she said.
Short said that expansion will take time and money, including the cost of putting patient records into electronic form.
"It is a very complex challenge to do that," she said. "But in one year, the hospitals in Ontario implemented a system that has taken other countries an average of five years. With the right investments, we could do it within a reasonable period of time."
New Democrat Shelley Martel said it will likely take even longer because the Liberals are unwilling to listen to critics on their wait-times strategy. In the meantime, Martel said patients are suffering throughout the health care system, especially those who languish in emergency rooms.
"We know that (it is) an extraordinary wait time that demands a response," she said. "They shouldn't be dismissive of information that is coming in. The experience of 640 front-line surgeons from across the province is information the government should take heed of."
The OMA survey of 640 surgeons concluded operating room time and budgets are being devoted to the government's five priority areas at the expense of other procedures.
The association called on the Ontario government to measure wait times for all surgeries, not just in the five areas targeted by the strategy. The province should also measure wait times more accurately, the association said, by starting the clock when a patient visits their family doctor rather than when they first see a specialist.