The leaves have all fallen and the winter frost has settled in. As we kick off the New Year, it is important to reflect on some important news out of Queen’s Park over the past several months. On November 15th, the government introduced its annual “Fall Economic Statement (FES)”. This is something the government does every fall in order to take stock of how the economy is doing and recalibrate government spending as required in advance of a more fulsome budget in the spring. What made this year’s FES more important than usual was the fact that it was the first opportunity for the new Progressive Conservative government to alter the fiscal plan laid out by the previous Liberal government. Finance Minister Fedeli highlighted the government’s achievements since taking office in June 2018, including, the repeal of the Green Energy Act, the cancellation of Ontario’s cap-and-trade system, and a freezing of minimum wage rates. With respect to healthcare, the government committed to taking a wholistic approach to ending what they describe as “hallway health care” – this means improved access to integrated health care. In terms of policy, the FES laid out the following:
- The government has wound down the Self-Directed Personal Support Services Ontario agency to reduce the administrative burden of delivering home care. The Local Health Integration Networks (LHINs) will continue to provide services under the Family-Managed Home Care program.
- A 2018-19 investment of $90 million for 1,100 beds in hospitals in advance of the flu season. This is in addition to the $300 million to support 6,000 new long-term care beds across Ontario. This is the first phase of the government’s commitment to add 15,000 new long-term care beds over five years.
- $1.9 billion over 10 years on mental health and addictions services. This is lower than the number committed by the Liberal government over the same time period.
- More funding to increase Rapid Access Addiction Medicine (RAAM) clinics across Ontario to give wider coverage to individuals with substance abuse issues.
- The government will be reviewing the Ontario Drug Benefit Program with the intention of creating an easier to understand, more consistent and sustainable drug system.
- Patients and families face challenges navigating the health system and are facing difficulties in accessing quality care in a timely manner—which is impacting patient health and caregiver well-being.
- The health system is increasingly strained and lacks right mix of services and beds, or digital tools to meet the growing and complex needs of patients anticipated in the near future and over the long-term.
- There is a need for better coordination at both the system level, and at the point-of-care. The report recognized that simply adding additional hospital or long term care beds will not solve to the challenges facing the health system.