There is not an awful lot new for health care in the recently released Ontario Liberal Party election program, Forward Together.
As far as hospitals are concerned, they emphasize the development of new hospitals. They play down that this will largely be done through expensive and troubled "public private partnerships" (which have been discussed many times on this site). Nor do they mention that these are not really new hospitals -- just redeveloped hospital facilities. Nor that as they have redeveloped hospitals, they have actually closed hundreds of hospital beds, closed emergency rooms, and cut some other services too.
The Liberals emphasize removing patients from hospitals and treating them elsewhere, a long term policy of the Liberals. This policy has been used to justify the bed cuts and the dangerously high bed occupancy levels.
Somewhat more positively the Libs claim:
"We will ensure that Ontario keeps the shortest surgical wait times in the country and that our hospitals continue to reduce waits for the 2.5 million Ontarians who rely on our Emergency Rooms each year. We will continue to reverse the PC cuts and hospital closures by investing in new hospitals and renovating existing facilities."
Also consistent with their long term policy, they claim:
"we will build on our successful Aging at Home strategy to reform the health care system to provide Ontarians, and especially our seniors, with the tools they need to receive care in the dignity of their own homes."
Notably they do not promise to improve home care funding. According to the Auditor General their Budget plan included only very modest funding increases for home care. Aging at Home may be nice -- but as an area of funding it is a sideshow compared to the main funding for home care, which goes through Community Care Access Centres. In any case, this vague promise on Aging at Home comes with no dollars attached.
As well (unlike the NDP) there is no promise to end competitive bidding in home care and create a public, not for profit home care system.
"We are redesigning Ontario’s primary care and homecare system to provide every senior with access to doctors, nurses and other health professionals who will provide better services, such as house calls and check-in by telephone and online."
God alone knows what that meant.
"We’ll provide a Health Care Coordinator who will facilitate care between specialists and family doctors, hospitals and the community to help seniors who’ve been hospitalized within the previous 12 months."
Health Care Coordinators might be useful -- but it's all pretty vague. No doubt part of the hope is to keep people out of hospital and keep costs low.
"Our most frail seniors who are at risk of injury or illness will have improved access to Personal Support Workers to provide them with the care they need at home. Our investments will provide up to 3 million hours of additional care for those in need."
This echoes (but falls a little short) of an NDP promise of 3 million PSW hours.
"The best support is the support we get from our loved ones. That’s why we’ll create a new Family Caregiver Leave, giving working Ontarians up to eight weeks of job-protected time away from work to help a family member who can’t care for themselves because of serious injury or illness."
Again, this is likely aimed at reducing hospital and home care costs by getting family members to to provide more care. Women will likely get stuck with this "free" work.
"By creating accessible spaces that meet health care needs, seniors can stay healthy at home. In some cases, people will need a new ramp to replace the front steps, a chair lift to the second floor or a walk-in shower to prevent falls. To make these investments affordable, we’ll create a Healthy Home renovation tax credit worth up to $1,500 annually."
Hmm -- could be a good idea.
Interestingly the Liberals say they will create a Local Food Act and will increase amount of local food purchased by schools and hospitals. While the promise is very vague, it could prove useful to providing more fresh, local food in hospitals.
"We’re looking for a new, 10-year Health Accord, negotiated among provinces and territories, with priorities, accountability and clear goals. We’ll make sure that those negotiations focus on health care reform, designed to meet the needs of our growing seniors population."
This does not make the demand (previously made by the Liberal government) that the Harper government continue the 6% escalator to the Canada Health Transfer. Without that, we are really in trouble.
"We’ll return Ontario to a balanced budget by 2017-18."This is as previously promised -- and absent tax increases will mean major cuts to social programs. Speaking of which:
"We committed to reduce the Ontario Public Service by 5% by March 2012. By further reducing the size of the Ontario Public Service by an additional 1,500 employees by 2014, we’ll save over $500 million in total. And we’ll find $200 million in savings at our major agencies by 2014."
They also promise to build on the Drummond Commission, which will report, after the election, on the reform of public services. As noted on this site, Drummond has already made some comments that can only be interpreted as support for cuts and privatization. So this support is not great news.
Finally, the Liberals promise to create online personalized cancer risk profiles and a council on childhood obesity
There is new significant money in Forward Together for areas outside of health care (notably the cash for the post-secondary tuition rebate) and some odds and ends in health care, but there is no sign that health care funding is going up overall in any significant way.
As discussed on this site, the existing Liberal funding plan for the next two years (in the last Budget) will mean serious cutbacks for health care -- after the election. Forward Together does not change that one wit, alas.