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Government & policy

Ontario government announces 31 new family health teams

TORONTO – The Ontario government hopes to improve access to doctors, nurses and other healthcare practitioners by creating 31 new Family Health Teams, Health and Long-Term Care Minister George Smitherman has announced.

“I’m delighted that Family Health Teams are continuing to grow throughout the province,” Smitherman said. “The 31 new Family Health Teams will provide better healthcare for hundreds of thousands of Ontarians, and will provide access to doctors and nurses to countless people who don’t have that access now.”

Family Health Teams are designed around the needs of each community. They are made up of doctors, nurse practitioners, nurses, dieticians, pharmacists, physician specialists, mental health workers and many others – depending on the need. These teams also provide comprehensive care around the clock, seven days a week. After hours, patients can call a registered nurse through the Telephone Health Advisory Service.

Family Health Teams offer advantages to healthcare providers and the patients they serve. They improve access to care since doctors working in a group practice are able to see more patients than those in a solo practice. Doctors benefit from the support of their colleagues when they are away and during extended hours while nurse practitioners, nurses and other healthcare professionals play an expanded role in caring for patients.

“Nurse practitioners have been healthcare’s best kept secret for years,” said Theresa Agnew, Past President of Nurse Practitioners’ Association of Ontario (NPAO). “Family Health Teams recognize the important role of nurse practitioners in keeping Ontarians healthy and taking care of them when they are sick.”

The announcement means there now are 100 Family Health Teams in Ontario, two thirds of the 150 the government will have created by 2007/08. This second wave of Family Health Teams will include over 250 doctors and is expected to include approximately 225 other practitioners, serving an estimated 500,000 patients in communities across Ontario.

The first Family Health Teams were announced last April. These teams are busy becoming operational, and are at different stages of implementation. When they are all fully up and running they could include as many as 650 doctors and approximately 600 other practitioners, and are expected to serve 1.2 million patients.

“Being in a Family Health Team has allowed me to spend more time with more patients who really need my help,” said Dr. Ken Burgess, Lead Physician, Hamilton Family Health Team. “Because we have a multi-disciplinary team of providers, patients have better access and receive a higher quality of care.”

“The interest in Family Health Teams continues to grow among healthcare professionals and communities,” said Dr. Jim MacLean, executive lead for primary healthcare with the ministry’s Health Results Team. “This growth is a great sign for patients who will be able to access the healthcare services they need and deserve.”

The Minister also announced that applications for the final wave of 50 Family Health Teams are now being accepted.

This initiative is part of the McGuinty government’s plan to build a healthcare system that delivers three priorities – keeping Ontarians healthy, reducing wait times and improving access to doctors and nurses.