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Ontario signs $3B health-care deal with feds to increase access to doctors, reduce wait times

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Ontario Premier Doug Ford has signed a $3.1-billion health-care deal with the federal government to increase access to primary care and reduce wait times.

The agreement was announced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau late Friday morning, making Ontario the fifth province to come to an agreement with Ottawa for its share of a $200-billion health accord.

The other provinces with agreements include British Columbia, Prince Edward Island, Alberta and Nova Scotia.

The announcement comes almost a year after the two governments reached a 10-year deal in principle to pay for health care in Ontario, with an additional $46 billion in funding to the Canada Health Transfer.

Premiers have been asking the federal government to increase their annual health transfers to cover 35 per cent of their health budgets, up from 22 per cent.

This kind of increase would have amounted to about $28 billion a year, with an additional five per cent annually after that.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ontario Premier Doug Ford attend an announcement at Seneca College, in King City, Ont., Friday, Feb. 9, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

About a year ago, Ottawa said its bilateral deal with Ontario included $8.4 billion and a one-time top-up of $776 million to address “urgent needs” in pediatric hospitals and emergency rooms.

As part of the deal, provinces had to agree to expand access to family health services, support health workers and reduce backlogs, increase mental health and substance use support, and modernize their health-care systems to include digital tools.

The $3.1 billion promised Friday covers the first three years of this agreement, ministry officials confirmed.

“For generations, universally accessible health care has been a core part of what it means to be Canadian,” Trudeau told reporters. “It’s built on a promise that, no matter where you live or what you earn, you will always be able to get the medical care you need.”

Under the agreement, Ontario has pledged to add hundreds of new family physicians and nurse practitioners, as well as thousands of nurses and personal support workers to fill staffing shortages. The funding will also be used to remove barriers for internationally trained doctors, add five new Youth Wellness Hubs, and address gaps in Indigenous health-care services.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Ford attend an announcement at Seneca College, in King City, Ont., Friday, Feb. 9, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Ford called the deal “historic,” saying it was about advancing priorities regardless of political stripes and will help fund targeted programs.

“This new funding will bolster the significant work we are doing in Ontario,” he said.

“While we are pleased with our progress, we know there is more work to do. That’s why today’s agreement is so important to strengthening our health-care system.”

More resources needed, medical association says

The Ontario Medical Association said that while the funding announcement is welcome and has the potential to help with urgent issues, it is not enough to address “significant structural challenges” within the health-care system.

“While we tackle the most urgent issues, we also need to ensure we have a long-term, stable funding formula to fix the underlying issues in [the] system and build for [the] future, knowing we have an aging and more medically complex patient population,” OMA President Dr. Andrew Park said in statement.

The OMA has been ringing alarm bells for years, warning that 2.3 million people in Ontario are without a family doctor.

CUPE's Ontario Council of Hospital Unions said last month that a survey showed two in five workers in the province had contemplated leaving their jobs and a similar amount dread going to work due to understaffing.

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