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Government and Policy

Ontario budget aims to reduce healthcare wait times

TORONTO – The government of Ontario’s budget, announced earlier in May, contained several items with implications for healthcare IT and technology in general.

In particular, Finance Minister Gregory Sorbara (pictured at left) announced:

• funding of $5 million this year to establish a Cancer Care Innovation Fund to promote new approaches that will reduce waiting times and improve access to cancer treatment.

• $1 million this year for the establishment of an Ontario Health Quality Council, which will report annually to the public on how Ontario’s healthcare system is working.

• $60 million this year for bed lifts for hospitals and long-term care facilities.

• nine new MRI and CT sites and 9,000 additional cataract surgeries by 2005-06; and by 2007-08, 36,000 additional cardiac services and 2,340 additional joint replacements.

In addition, the government announced it would provide funds to hospitals, cancer centres and independent health facilities to expand services to reduce wait times for cardiac, cataract, and joint replacement surgeries, cancer treatment, and MRIs and CT scans.

Sorbara said the government would update the cardiac and cancer radiation registries this year, and in 2005-2006, tracking information on hip and knee-joint replacements.

Overall, Ontario announced that it would boost overall healthcare spending to $30.3 billion in 2004-2005, up from $28.1 billion in 2003-2004.

That includes a $470 million increase in operating support for hospitals, and a $406 million jump for long-term care facilities, including the costs of opening 3,760 additional beds.

Sorbara stated that the government seeks to expand primary and community-based care to provide cost-effective alternatives to more expensive institutional care. It intends to:

• Establish 150 new multi-disciplinary Family Health Teams, consisting of doctors, nurses and nurse-practitioners, capable of providing round-the-clock primary care.

• Enhance primary care delivery at 54 existing community health centres, and the number of centres will be expanded over the government’s mandate.

• Enhance home care by 2007-2008 to supply an additional 95,700 Ontarians annually with care in their homes and provide end-of life care to another 6,000 clients each year.

• Expand community mental health services to serve an additional 78,600 patients annually by 2007-08 and include increased access to case management, crisis response and early intervention services.