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Ford government begins work to license new clinics under controversial health-care bill

A year after it announced radical plans to ramp up the role of for-profit and private clinics in Ontario’s health-care system, the Ford government is still working out the rules of engagement.

On Wednesday, Health Minister Sylvia Jones unveiled the next steps in the process, which revolve around finalizing the accreditation and inspection process for private facilities that will be allowed to offer taxpayer-funded services.

“When it comes to reducing wait times for surgeries, we aren’t accepting a status quo that leaves too many people waiting too long for care,” Jones said.

Starting in the spring, the province said it will begin expanding the number of licensed diagnostic and surgery centres. The newly accredited spaces will offer services like MRI and CT scans, endoscopies and orthopedic surgeries.

As part of the changes, the province plans to name Accreditation Canada as the inspection body for private and for-profit clinics. The province said more than 900 such spaces — referred to by the Ford government as community clinics — exist, with more set to enter the pipeline.

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It means that a year after the Ford government first announced its changes to health care, it will begin weighing and issuing new licences for private clinics.

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Just four licences for three cataract centres were handed out in 2023, the only new facilities that have come out so far under the new rules.

A spokesperson for the minister of health confirmed the general call for new licences would begin in the spring.

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“Over the coming weeks, the province will consult extensively with health care sector partners, regulatory colleges representing providers, and patients and families on the development of the new oversight and quality assurance program,” the province said in a statement.

As it implements the changes, the province will integrate wait times data between public hospitals and private clinics. The move is designed to show if the new facilities are helping to clear the surgery backlog and how they work within the health-care system.

The Ontario NDP, the official Opposition to the Ford government at Queen’s Park, said it was not impressed by the changes.

“They aren’t tackling the crisis,” NDP MPP Peter Tabuns told reporters after the announcement.

“I don’t think they’re as concerned about the regulations of these facilities as they are about getting them set up so that investors can make money off them. I think that’s what they’re focusing on. ”

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The legislation the changes come under — Bill 60 — was tabled by the Ford government to cut waiting times. It laid out a long-term blueprint that would slowly shift how some health services are delivered.

It set out to expand the number of cataract surgeries, diagnostic imaging and testing operations taking place in private clinics, with the long-term goal of creating a new system to perform hip- and knee-replacement surgeries.

Ontario’s surgery wait-lists exploded during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Data previously obtained by Global News showed that at the beginning of 2022, 105,000 people were waiting longer than recommended for non-urgent surgeries. That number was up from around 50,000 pre-pandemic.

In 2022, the overall wait-list for surgery in the province sat at around 250,000.

The province said Wednesday it had reduced the surgical wait-list backlog from its peak in March 2022 and eliminated the wait-list for cervical cancer screening.

“Through the actions taken to date as part of Your Health, Ontario is connecting more people to surgeries and diagnostics care and reducing wait times,” the province said.

— with a file from The Canadian Press

&© 2024 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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