5/21/11

Hospital urgent care reduced (as privatization reduces public health care)

The London Free Press reports that a 'shortage' of doctors could close the London St. Joe's Urgent Care Centre on summer weekends. Fewer than half of the weekends in June, July and August are fully staffed so far, and a doctor shortage could extend into the fall, said Dr. Gary Joubert, head of emergency medicine in London.


"I'm very disappointed . . . I want it to be fixed. The people of London expect the urgent care centre to be open," said Health Minister Deb Matthews,who is also a London MPP.  


Matthews allowed that many hospitals face challenges staffing ERs, but added "I'm not aware of any that have cut their hours in such a drastic way," she said.

St. Joe's disputed Matthews' suggestion that the closures are simply a St. Joe's issue: "It's important to remember that this isn't a single hospital issue, it's a city-wide issue," the St. Joe's CEO said.  London hospitals started using a private business (Med-Emerg International) to help them staff their emergency rooms after a doctor shortage hit in 2005.
There has been some comment that extra provincial funding for rural hospitals to help them recruit doctors has been a factor in the London doc shortage.  But the rural hospitals are struggling just to keep going.


The shortages however do occur as the government continues to allow the expansion health care privatization.  When the 'well to do' buy faster and more extensive access to health care professionals, there is an equivalent reduction in access to those health care professionals through the public system.   A few people get better access, while the rest of us get worse access.  


While it is not clear what has driven this particular shortage, there is no doubt that timely access to health care professionals has become a major problem and that privatization is moving health care professionals out of the public health care system. 
A 2008 report authored by Ontario Health Coalition Director Natalie Mehra  found evidence of staff poaching out of local hospitals by for-profit clinics in five provinces, including Ontario. "For-profit clinics are ... taking specialists, health professionals and operating room nurses out of local public hospitals to serve less urgent patients, often for extra fees," Mehra added.  
Likely, the for-profit clinics have grown since then.   
So far, however, neither the Liberals nor the Progressive Conservatives have promised to keep resources in the public system.  Instead, there seems to be an attitude of "let's not talk about it -- and let for-proft clinics quietly expand."  
Since opening in 2005, the St. Joe's Urgent Care Centre has cut its hours from 8 am to 10 pm to 8 am to 4 pm, most recently cutting its hours of operation in January. 

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