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Medical Reform Group Letter
to Health Minister Dennis Timbrell

The Honourable Dennis Timbrell, Minister of Health,
Queen's Park, Toronto

Dear Mr. Timbrell:

The recent announcement of further cuts in hospital beds in Ontario and the decision to charge patients in chronic care and psychiatric settings has elicited adverse criticism from both the medical profession and public groups. The Medical Reform Group would like to add its voice to those which have already been raised protesting these decisions.

The Ontario government has made explicit its commitment to universal health care. The recently announced decisions concerning resource disposal, however, belie that commitment. It is completely inconsistent to talk about universally accessible health care and at the same time decide to charge psychiatric patients for their long term care. The government has pointed out that social security benefits paid to patients in chronic care settings often accumulate in bank accounts and are eventually harvested by the patient's relatives. We acknowledge that this is a problem. However, the government's solution, which undercuts the patients' right to appropriate health care, is unacceptable.

Cuts in hospital budgets are no less an attack on universal health care accessibility. The cutbacks will mean that patients will be forced out of hospital earlier, and will return sicker. The scene, depicted by hospital administraters, of ambulances carrying patients from one hospital to another looking for the theoretical empty bed, is not an exaggeration. Many members of the Medical Reform Group work in downtown Toronto hospitals. We have already faced the situation in which we have spent hours on the phone, trying to find a bed in another hospital for our patients. When accessibility is thus restricted, those with influence of one kind or another will inevitably get the care; the rest will suffer.

The government has talked about opening acute care beds by shifting elderly, stable patients who presently occupy a significant number of such beds to other settings. Those who work in hospitals and have tried placing a patient in a nursing home or chronic care institution know how ludicrous, in the present context, such a suggestion is. Patients in downtown hospitals routinely wait two to three months for such placement. The beds are simply not available.

The government has spoken of a shift in resource allocation from hospital to outpatient care. We agree that such a shift would save money and lead to better patient care. However, the government has cut back on hospital care without any attempt to redirect the funds to outpatient facilities. Such facilities are desperately necessary; but they will not spring up by themselves as sick patients are denied access to hospital. The establishment of community clinics as the basic unit of the health care system, as both we and others have recommended, will in the end save money, but an initial expenditure to establish new outpatient facilities is necessary.

Canada is still a wealthy country. Government and industry are still allocating resources in ways which are wasteful and extravagant. Cutbacks in as basic a need as medical care, cutbacks which further limit universal access to high quality medical care, are deleterious and deplorable.

Medical Reform Group

Health critic,
New Democratic Party Health critic,
Liberal Party Editor,
Globe and Mail Editor,
Toronto Star Editor,
Toronto Sun
Ontario Federation of Labour

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