Remarks By Dalton McGuinty, Premier Of Ontario To The University Of Ottawa Medical School
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It's wonderful to return to this, my alma mater.
I've really been looking forward to this.
Because nothing could be better than being with all of you, here at one of our greatest medical schools.
And we couldn't pick a better time to be together.
In two weeks, I, along with the other premiers, will meet with the Prime Minister to discuss the future of medicare.
In two days, I'll sit down with my provincial colleagues and territorial leaders to prepare for that meeting.
So I want to talk to you today about what's at stake in these talks -- and what Ontario is bringing to the table.
Let's understand what this is really all about.
It's easy in my world, as in your world, to sometimes talk about health care in academic terms.
You will, undoubtedly, hear a lot at the first ministers' conference about inputs and outcomes, about cost sharing agreements and program reviews.
But let's not forget that we're talking about people -- people facing the most critical moments of their lives.
People who were busy learning, growing, earning a living, raising families and building communities when everything changed.
Perhaps everything changed because of a cancer diagnosis.
Or a hip or knee that needs replacing.
Or eyesight that's failing.
Something that has turned health care into the thing that matters most to them.
When you face disease, or find it painful to walk, or almost impossible to see, the last thing you want to do is wait for the care you need.
A mother doesn't want to wait to tell her daughter she'll be okay.
A wife doesn't want to wait to tell her husband that her surgery is going ahead.
And a son doesn't want to wait for the test, or the treatment, that may determine whether he'll get the time he needs to become a husband, or a father.
We are talking about people, at the most critical moments in their lives.
That's why Ontario's top priority is shorter wait times for quality health care.
Ontarians want to preserve universal, publicly funded medicare.
They believe it's essential to who we are as Canadians -- a reflection of our values.
We look out for one another, regardless of income.
But they also want to know that medicare will be there for them, with the care they need, when they need it.
And they have little confidence that is the case today.
They have even less confidence this will be the case tomorrow.
They know that our doctors and nurses, hospitals and community care access centres do tremendous work every day.
But they also know that our population is growing and aging.
They understand this is putting enormous pressure on that system, the governments who fund it, and the working men and women who fund those governments.
For example, the overall number of new cancer cases in Ontario is growing at the rate of close to three per cent every year.
At that rate, it will grow by two-thirds by 2020.
Not only are we struggling to keep pace.
We have been failing to keep track.
With the exception of selected cardiac and cancer services, there is no coordinated wait time system for key services in our province.
Doctors, and sometimes hospitals, often keep their own lists.
These are not shared on a system-wide basis.
In all regional cancer centres, the median wait time from referral to the start of radiation therapy has gone up -- from 5.1 weeks in 1993 to seven weeks in 2002.
Most Ontario patients will wait longer for radiation therapy than is recommended by the Canadian Association of Radiation Oncologists.
A wait can be terribly long when you are waiting to walk without pain, to see without obstruction, or simply to live without fear.
Our government has a well thought-out plan to shorten wait times.
Not a simple plan, because this is not a simple problem.
But a well thought-out plan, developed in consultation with doctors and nurses and leading experts in Canada and from around the world.
Our strategy is to shorten wait times for five key services:
- Hip and knee total joint replacements
- Cataract surgery
- Selected cancer services, including radiation therapy
- Selected cardiac services, including cardiac surgery
- MRI examinations.
We want timely, accurate, provincewide information on how long patients are waiting in relation to the urgency of their cases.
We want to share that information with the public and health care professionals, so they can make informed decisions.
We need to use that information to transform the system -- to identify the backlogs, to understand where the demand is, and to factor in the changing demographics of our patients.
In short, we need to transform the patchwork we now call a system into a real system that really works for patients.
To make sure our hospitals have the space and resources they need to deliver services like hip and knee total joint replacements and cardiac surgeries, we must improve the entire spectrum of care.
That starts with the primary care many of you will deliver.
The family doctor shortage extends to 140 under-serviced communities in Ontario.
We could use 694 of you today, or as soon you become family physicians.
That's how many vacancies we have for family doctors.
By reforming and improving primary care, we can ensure Ontarians have access to front-line care, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, by providing teams of health care professionals -- doctors, nurse practitioners, nurses and pharmacists all working together.
Better primary care is the key to disease prevention and early diagnosis of problems when they do occur.
By improving home care, nursing home care, and long-term care, we can ensure patients do not wait in hospitals when they could be in a more appropriate setting -- and when they want to be in a more appropriate setting.
By promoting wellness, we can target the scourge that is tobacco and the risk posed by childhood obesity.
By building in real accountability, we can assure Ontarians that they are getting what they need, and what they are paying for.
On all of these, Ontario is making important progress.
Our first budget is built to deliver better health care.
It will deliver, within our first mandate:
An additional 9,000 cataract surgeries by the end of 2005.
An additional 36,000 cardiac procedures.
An additional 2,300 joint replacements.
Nine new MRI services.
And 150 new Family Health Teams, to provide around-the-clock, comprehensive primary care.
There's additional funding for 54 existing community health centres, home care for another 95,000 Ontarians and compassionate end-of-life care for 6,000 more people.
It provides real improvement in community mental health services, which will now reach an additional 78,000 people over the next four years.
We are establishing the Ontario Health Quality Council, which will independently report to Ontarians on the state of their health care system.
The challenges facing us are so great, and this plan so important, that we simply have to act.
So we can provide the health care Ontarians, and Canadians, want and deserve.
But we can't do it all at once.
Our budget is just a start.
And we can't do it all alone.
We need the federal government's help, and we need it right away.
Populations are growing and aging.
Technologies and treatments are advancing.
And the cost of health care is going up -- way up.
Here in Ontario, health care costs are growing by eight per cent each year.
The fastest growing area is drug costs.
They're going up at a rate of 14 per cent a year.
The bottom line is we have the vision -- and the plan -- to reduce wait times and improve health care.
What we don't have is the fiscal room -- the cash -- to get the job done.
That's why, at this summer's meeting of premiers, we welcomed a proposal brought forward by the Premier of British Columbia.
The Campbell Proposal called for a national pharmacare strategy -- and the provinces unanimously endorsed it.
Not because pharmacare is a greater priority than waiting lists.
But because a national pharmacare strategy would:
- First: Provide equitable access to prescription drugs across Canada.
- Second: Provide Ottawa with a leadership role in the fastest growing health care sector.
- Third, and most importantly, free up the money Ontario is spending now on drugs so we can invest it in our plan to shorten wait times.
If Ottawa assumed the entire cost of prescription drugs, we would have an additional $3.7 billion to deliver what Ontarians want most: more doctors and nurses, shorter waits for selected cancer and selected cardiac services, more hip and knee total joint replacements and cataract surgeries and better access to MRI and CT examinations.
What Ontario wants out of next month's meeting is at least the start of a solution that allows us to deliver these things.
A national pharmacare strategy is one way to do it.
That's why we support it.
From Ontario's point of view, the important thing is to get the job done.
We all need to walk into that meeting knowing what's at stake.
It can't be about politics as usual.
It simply has to be about making real, measurable progress in improving health care for people, by reducing wait times.
We owe that to the people we are all privileged to serve.
We owe that to you, the hard working, dedicated men and women who choose health care, not merely as a career, but as a calling.
We owe that to every one who is waiting for the chance to walk, the help they need to see, even the opportunity to live long, full lives.
We owe that to our grandparents and parents, who built this province and the medicare it cherishes.
And we owe that to our children, who deserve the greatest legacy we can leave them: timely care based on timeless values, medicare for the 21st century.