Health Care before Political Games

Why should we wait for the medical lobby to give its nod to a proven model for health care in Ontario communities?

Let’s not kid ourselves. The Ontario Health Networks, including the “failed” pilot projects, have never been about primary health-care reform.
Usually, these primary-care projects are physician-led group practices that largely reflect a change in the way physicians are funded, rather than a change in how the public receives comprehensive health care, by whom and when. So, it is even more distressing that the Ontario Medical Association (OMA), as the negotiator for physicians within Family Health Networks, is dragging its feet on this baby-step reform.

The good news, however, is that there are solutions one of them right under our own noses. Community Health Centres (CHCs) have been delivering comprehensive primary health care throughout this province for more than 20 years. What’s more, the people of Thunder Bay the location of one of the “failed pilots” have asked for a CHC. So, why not expand the number of community health centres across Ontario as one way to deliver primary health care?
Health-care reform must centre on the needs of the public first and foremost. What we see now are political games overriding public interest. And the Ontario government is allowing this to happen.

If ever there were a need for primary health-care reform, the time is now.
There are emergency backlogs, long waits for service, and other signs of strain. These problems would be greatly alleviated by primary health-care reform. Instead, we are witnessing our health-care system erode as the government delists services and continues to shift care from the insured hospital sector to the uninsured and inadequately funded community sector.

We are at a crossroads, and our choice is clear. We can continue to erode access and effectiveness through privatization, which has led to more costly and less effective care wherever it is introduced. Or we can work to buttress our best asset as a society a universal, accessible, publicly funded health-care system that uses all our human resources wisely to provide the health promotion, illness prevention, and high-quality patient care that Ontarians need and deserve.
So what are we waiting for? Why should all Ontarians be forced to sit and wait for the organized medical lobby in this province to give its nod to a proven model for providing health care in communities across the province? The government should loosen the stranglehold that the OMA has on primary health-care reform. No single provider, self-interested or not, should decide on primary health care for all Ontarians.

The Primary Health Care Coalition believes that nothing less than the future of our health-care system is at stake. We urge the government to reclaim its authority to act in the best interests of the public. We urge the OMA to acknowledge the contribution of its family medicine experts and to allow them to fully participate in this initiative. Indeed, survey after survey indicates that the family physicians in this province are ready, even anxious, to move forward. Other members of the primary health-care team nurses, dietitians, midwives, and social workers are impatient for this initiative to happen. In fact, there are more than 200 nurse practitioners currently unemployed or underemployed who are eager to use their knowledge and skills for the benefit of the public. We know that this piece of the health-care puzzle would fit snugly within an accessible and comprehensive system while solving some of the chronic problems Ontarians face every day.

Ethel Meade is a member of the Primary Health Care Coalition, which comprises community organizations and provider groups representing more than 1 million people. The coalition is committed to a comprehensive, interdisciplinary, publicly funded and universally accessible system of primary health care in Ontario.