Health Minister Deb Matthews responds to union demonstration

The Stratford Beacon Herald reports that the Minister of Health and LTC, Deb Matthews, has responded to the OCHU/CUPE  rally held at the South West LHIN conference Thursday.  Here's  the key points:

Ontario Minister of Health and Long-Term Care Deb Matthews seemed almost disappointed she wasn't around for a protest rally in Stratford Thursday by hospital workers worried about potential cuts to health-care services.  She said she would have told them the province has no such plans.

"What I can tell you very clearly is that our party, the Liberal party, is absolutely committed to spend more on health care year over year," Matthews told The Beacon Herald after her speech to delegates at the first South West Local Health Integraton Network quality symposium at the Rotary Complex....

(OCHU/CUPE members) were responding to the appearance at the symposium of keynote speaker Jim Easton, director for improvement and efficiency for the United Kingdom's National Health Service. He has been charged with finding the equivalent of $31.6 billion in efficiencies in the British health-care system.

Matthews said that while the province is not planning to cut health spending, it will level off the rate of increase as it works to find more efficient ways to deliver health care in Ontario.

"We know that as our population grows, as our population ages, we're going to need to spend more on health care," she said, "but we do need to get a whole lot smarter about how we spend it."

Working at ways of providing the highest quality care and getting the best value for health-care dollars will remain a priority, said Matthews.

"We are committed to protecting universal health care and we welcome the partnership of labour as we make those changes," she said.

But changes need to be made, she added.  "The status quo is not an option."

It was a sentiment that she touched on earlier in her speech to delegates, when she spoke about the need to prepare for the shift in demographics and the importance of making "tough decisions" on how best to increase quality and reduce waste in the system.

"If we do not make changes now, the pressure to move to a two-tier health-care system will be a very strong and powerful pressure," she said.  "I refuse to go there."

This is probably a pretty good indication of how the Liberals will position themselves in the upcoming election ("Defenders of Medicare").  And if so, that's positive.

But note, when the question health care services is raised, she only promises to spend more on health care year over year -- a pretty thin promise, given significant inflation.  (And in any case, no politician would say they are cutting health care spending -- before an election.)  Also note, she flatly says the Liberals will "level off" the increases, and makes no promise to increase hospital spending.  Indeed, in her speech to the 500 health care bosses at the LHIN meeting, she referred to  making "tough decisions".   

The full Beacon Herald Story can be found here, and the paper's  earlier report on the OCHU demonstration is here.  

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