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Ontario Providing Faster Access to Medical Specialist Services

News Release

Ontario Providing Faster Access to Medical Specialist Services

Nurse Practitioners to Refer Patients Directly To Specialists

Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care

The government is helping patients get faster access to the right care by removing barriers for nurse practitioners to directly refer their patients to a specialist, and to directly receive the specialist's advice.  

Ontario is amending the Health Insurance Act and changing the way specialists receive consultation fees to:

  • Remove barriers for patients to receive specialist services
  • Ensure patients in rural Ontario are not travelling unnecessarily to get physician referrals that could otherwise be provided by a nurse practitioner closer to home
  • Allow nurse practitioners to use their training to better meet patient needs
  • Support the delivery of collaborative, team-based care that puts patients first
  • Strengthen continuity of care by allowing specialists to provide advice directly back to the referring nurse practitioner.

Previously, patients with a nurse practitioner as their primary care provider had to also see a physician in order to be referred to a specialist. Now, the nurse practitioner can refer directly to the specialist, which will enable nurse practitioners to provide a service that they already have the training to perform.

Nurse practitioners play a crucial part in providing patients with faster access to the right care. Supporting nurse practitioners in Ontario is part of the government's plan to build a better Ontario through its Patients First: Action Plan for Health Care, providing patients with faster access to the right care, better home and community care, the information they need to live healthy and a health care system that's sustainable for generations to come.

Quick Facts

  • The number of nurse practitioners working in Ontario has increased to 2,209 in 2014, up 7.4 per cent from 2013.
  • Nurse practitioners provide a full range of health care services to individuals, families and communities in Ontario. More than half of all Ontario nurse practitioners practice primary care, with the remainder focused on geriatrics, acute care, emergency care and cardiac care.
  • Ontario is increasing the number of nurse practitioners in long-term care homes by 75 new positions over three years, starting with 30 this fall.
  • Ontario’s Grow Your Own Nurse Practitioner Initiative enables employers to fill a vacant nurse practitioner position by sponsoring a registered nurse to become a nurse practitioner.
  • This year, National Nursing Week runs from May 11 - 17 and International Nurses Day is on May 12.

Background Information

Additional Resources


Dr. Eric Hoskins

“Ontario continues to seek innovative and efficient ways to improve access to care. By allowing nurse practitioners to make referrals to specialists, we not only make the best use of the skills and capacity of our health care providers but also enable a timely and seamless approach to patient needs.”

Dr. Eric Hoskins

Minister of Health and Long-Term Care

“On behalf of more than 2,600 nurse practitioners in Ontario, NPAO is thrilled to hear that the restrictions NPs had faced referring their patients to a specialist physician have now been removed. This change will help expedite patient care and will help to ensure clear lines of communication and accountability. This is good news for patients, practitioners and taxpayers.”

Theresa Agnew

Executive Director, Nurse Practitioners' Association of Ontario (NPAO)

“The Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario, which represents RNs, NPs and Nursing Students in the province, applauds the government's focus on providing Ontarians with faster access to medical specialist services by lifting the restrictions of nurse practitioners to refer patients directly. The real winners are Ontarians, who will experience improved access and better outcomes.”

Doris Grinspun

CEO, Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario (RNAO)

Media Contacts

  • Media Line

    Toll-free: 1-888-414-4774


    GTA: 416-314-6197

  • David Jensen

    Communications and Marketing Division-MOHLTC



  • Shae Greenfield

    Minister's Office


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    (Toll-free in Ontario only)





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