Health Minister Christine Elliott is walking back remarks made by Premier Doug Ford at the annual premiers’ conference last week, when he promised Ontario would end “hallway health care” by this time next year.
Elliott suggested Monday that it will take longer to fix the complex problem that involves everything from improved mental health and addictions treatment centre in communities to help keep people out of hospital emergency departments and better management of patients with chronic diseases.
“We’re working on many fronts to try and reduce the number of people who receive care in hallways,” she told reporters at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, where she announced an extra $1.4 million in funding for 72 patients to receive a new treatment for tremors.
Ford made the hallway pledge last Thursday at the Council of the Federation meeting in Saskatoon, setting a deadline on the vow first made in the 2018 election campaign.
“When we got elected, there was people in hallways across our province waiting to see a doctor for five hours,” the premier told reporters at a news conference where he also pressed the federal government to increase health-care transfers to the provinces by 5.2 per cent, as the previous Liberal government of Kathleen Wynne had asked.
“We are going to end hallway health care. As we stand right now we’re down to 1,000 patients in the hallways, but I can assure the people of Ontario, over the next year we won’t have anyone in the hallways there.”
Critics said Ford’s government will make hallway medicine worse by trimming the rate of increase in hospital funding.
“It’s just ridiculous. He’s making stuff up, pulling numbers out of the air,” said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath. “Christine Elliott’s not going to back up that commitment.”
The Ontario Health Coalition said Ford’s Progressive Conservative government is going in the opposite direction in terms of hospital beds.
“There’s no way to end hallway medicine with that,” said Natalie Mehra of the health coalition.
Michael Hurley of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions said Ford’s pronouncement in Saskatoon was “stunning.”
“It sounds like wishful thinking, magical thinking. He said 1,000 people were on stretchers in hallways. You would think he would announce the creation of 1,000 new hospital beds to take them into hospitals in appropriate settings.”
The government has said it will add 15,000 new long-term care beds within five years and has announced a new dental care program for seniors with low incomes.
Rob Ferguson is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robferguson1