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Ontario focusing on expanding services at independent clinics in three-step plan

DAN CEARNS, The Standard

DURHAM/KAWARTHA LAKES: The Ontario government has announced a new three-step plan to tackle the current province-wide surgical backlog, focusing on independent clinics.

The announcement was made by Premier Doug Ford and Health Minister Sylvia Jones on Monday, January 16th.

The first step of the plan will focus on cataract surgeries.

“New partnerships with community surgical and diagnostic centres in Windsor, Kitchener-Waterloo and Ottawa will add 14,000 additional cataract surgeries, which will be performed each year. This number represents up to 25 percent of the province’s current cataract waitlist and accounts for the estimated COVID-related backlog of cataract surgeries. These centres will perform the 14,000 additional surgeries with existing health human resources,” an Ontario government press release explained.

The press release added the first step will also see an investment of $18 million “in existing centres to cover care for thousands of patients, including more than 49,000 hours of MRI and CT scans, 4,800 cataract surgeries, 900 other ophthalmic surgeries, 1,000 minimally invasive gynecological surgeries and 2,845 plastic surgeries such as hand soft tissue repair.”

In the second step, the Ontario government will expand “the scope of community surgical and diagnostic centres to address regional needs with a continued focus on cataracts, as well as MRI and CT imaging, colonoscopy and endoscopy procedures.”

“To start as early as 2023, these procedures will be non-urgent, low-risk and minimally invasive and, in addition to shortening wait times, will allow hospitals to focus their efforts and resources on more complex and high-risk surgeries,” stated the press release.

In the third step, the Ontario government will introduce legislation in February which will “allow existing community diagnostic centres to conduct more MRI and CT scanning so people can access publicly funded diagnostic services faster and closer to home.”

In 2024, this is expected to expand to surgeries for hip and knee replacements.

“The status quo is no longer acceptable,” Premier Ford said, at a press conference. “Today, we are taking action to reduce wait times for surgeries.”

Minister Jones explained, to tackle this issue, the government needs “to be bold, innovative and creative.”

Independent clinics include community-based non-profit clinics and for-profit clinics.

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