As hospital departments across Ontario have been forced to shut their doors and scale back hours in recent weeks, Premier Doug Ford said Wednesday that the province's health-care system is still meeting the needs of Ontarians.
"I want to be clear, Ontarians continue to have access to the care they need, when they need it," Ford said at an announcement in Stratford, Ont.
According to the Ontario Nurses' Association (ONA), about 25 hospitals in Ontario were forced to scale back sections of their facilities on the previous long weekend due to staff shortages.
Ford said hospitals and emergency departments are feeling "increased pressures right now," but also said surgeries are happening at "nearly 90 per cent of the pre-pandemic rates," and nine out of 10 people going into emergency departments "are getting taken care of within the health parameters."
"We're throwing everything we possibly can at the health system," Ford said, saying that the province is working to add more internationally trained nurses, while having already added 760 of them to the system.
WATCH | Ford responds to criticism on province's handling of health care:
This marks the first time in weeks that Ford has taken questions amid an ongoing staffing crisis in the health-care sector and contract negotiations with education workers.
Burnout and illness among health workers, compounded by an influx of people seeking treatment that was put off earlier in the COVID-19 pandemic, has forced some hospitals to limit services and temporarily close their emergency departments.
Opposition MPPs say government is missing in action
At a news conference Tuesday morning, Ontario Liberal MPPs John Fraser and Dr. Adil Shamji said Health Minister Sylvia Jones and the premier have been missing in action while the health-care sector faces unprecedented levels of pressure.
"For months now, Ontario's nurses, doctors and front-line health-care workers have been alerting the Ford government to the crisis that we are now experiencing in our hospitals," Fraser said.
"The situation is very serious, that situation is very grave. The problem is we don't have enough people to provide the care that people need. Nurses are leaving the profession at twice the normal rate and it's not slowing down."
At Wednesday's news conference, Ford said other provinces are also feeling these pressures, and again called for increased funding from the federal government — though an April report from the Financial Accountability Office of Ontario on fiscal results during the first year of the pandemic found that the province's total per person program spending in 2020 was the lowest in Canada, with the least amount in health spending.
"This isn't a problem that is unique to Ontario," Ford said.
No commitment to repeal Bill 124
Nursing groups, hospital executives and other health-care professionals and advocates have said that burnout after being on the COVID-19 front lines for more than two years and not being properly compensated have caused people to leave the profession in droves.
Many nurses point to Bill 124 as a major source of concern, saying that the legislation that capped wage increases for public sector workers to one per cent a year for three years has devalued their work.
Ford noted that the provisions expire and won't apply to their next contract negotiations, but still didn't say that he would repeal it, adding that the government has offered nurses a $5,000 bonus.
When asked Wednesday if he would commit to paying them more, Ford said the bonus was a "thank you," and no one thinks the world of nurses and other health-care workers more than he does.