A new report from the Canadian Institute for Health Information shows that Ontario’s funding of hospitals is the lowest in the country at $1,396 per person in comparison to a national average of $1750, a finding that has provincial health care advocates warning of staff shortages, higher readmission rates and further declines to service.
Per capita spending on Ontario hospitals has decreased each of the past three years, according to the CIHI report, amounting to a 10 per cent overall cut to hospital funding. That’s too much, says Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU) president Michael Hurley.
“What’s so disturbing is that the provincial Liberals are proud of cutting hospital patient care. People are sent home from hospital while still acutely ill. They are denied admittance because bed are overbooked and hospital care is effectively rationed.”
The CIHI report says that although nationwide spending on health care has decreased by an average of 0.6 per cent every year since 2011, Canada’s overall health-to- GDP ratio has trended upwards over the last 40 years. The three big ticket items in health expenditures were identified as hospitals (29.5 per cent of health care dollars), drugs (15.7 per cent) and physician services (15.5 per cent).
Differences among provincial spending habits were noted, as Quebec was found to spend just 30 per cent of its budget on health care while other provinces like Manitoba and Nova Scotia are using 46 per cent. And overall per person spending on health care was found to be the highest in the territories -Nunavut spends $14,059 per person on health care, compared to a national average of $6,105.
The upshot for Ontario is a $4.8 billion shortfall in funding, according to the OCHU, which argues that the lack of funding dollars directly translates to degraded service and more re-admissions. Martha Peters, president of OCHU local in Brockville, says that fewer health care staff and beds has created an 8.1 per cent decline in length of hospital stays, accompanied by a 10 per reduction in hospital admissions – both of which effectively produce spikes in re-admissions once people return to hospital with aggravated symptoms. “That seems to be the case when they come back. They are more seriously ill,” said Peters.
Funding cuts are a problem not just for patients but also for staff, as shortages ultimately leave nurses and hospital employees unequipped to deal with difficult, sometimes dangerous situations.
A report from the Hamilton Spectator on conditions in the mental health facility at Hamilton’s St. Joseph’s Hospital found that assaults on staff by patients have jumped 41 per cent since 2013, ranging from hot coffee being thrown in a nurse’s face to another having his nose broken and another beaten unconscious. Staff say they are forced to use pillows and mattresses to shield themselves from unruly patients.
Earlier this year, St. Joseph’s announced 136 job cuts aimed at reducing its $26 million budgetary shortfall, a move that Dr. David Higgins, president of St. Joseph’s Healthcare, has called “a challenge.”