The Ontario government is investing $741 million to help clear the backlog of surgeries and build more capacity in the health care system to effectively manage surges and outbreaks in COVID-19 cases. This is part of the province’s COVID-19 fall preparedness plan, Keeping Ontarians Safe: Preparing for Future Waves of COVID-19. The plan will help the province quickly identify, prevent and respond to any scenario in order to protect communities.
Details were provided today by Premier Doug Ford and Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health.
“The last thing patients and families should have to worry about right now is the cancellation of their surgery or procedure due to the second wave of COVID-19,” said Premier Ford. “We are moving mountains to make sure all patients get the top-notch care they deserve, while clearing the backlog of surgeries. At the same time, we are preparing for any future surge or outbreak in order to keep everyone safe and healthy.”
“Expanding access to care to help reduce health service backlogs is part of our plan to ensure that we are ready for future waves of COVID-19,” said Minister Elliott. “This investment is essential to help more patients waiting for surgeries and other procedures get the care they need faster and help reduce the burden on our system.To ensure that the health system is prepared to respond to any surges of COVID-19 without interrupting routine health services, we are also increasing capacity inhome and community care and expanding digital and virtual health care services.”
Accelerate Efforts to Reduce Health Service Backlogs
To support the health care system as it works to reduce surgical backlogs and improve access to care during the COVID-19 pandemic, Ontario has already taken the following actions:
- Released A Measured Approach to Planning for Surgeries and Procedures During the COVID-19 Pandemic, a comprehensive framework to help hospitals assess their readiness and begin planning for the gradual resumption of scheduled surgeries and procedures, while maintaining their ability to respond to COVID-19 and the upcoming flu season; and
- Invested in virtual care providing alternatives to in-person care that limit the transmission of COVID-19, while maintaining access to care.
Ontario is making the necessary investments to expand access to services and surgical and procedural backlogs by:
- Investing up to $283.7 million to support additional priority surgeries including cancer, cardiac, cataract, and orthopaedic procedures;
- Extending diagnostic imaging hours at health care facilities forMRIs, CT scans, and other critical procedures;
- Adding an additional 139 critical care beds and 1,349 additional hospital beds in hospitals and alternate health facilities across the province to support more surgical procedures; and
- Working to initiate a centralized waitlist and a program to optimize the use of the operating roomsto improve the use of existing resources and increase the number of surgical procedures in hospitals by hundreds on average per year, and improve patient flow by leveraging available surgical capacity in each region.
Prepare for Surges in COVID-19 Cases
Ontario is also preparing to respond to any potential surges of COVID-19 without interrupting the delivery of routine health care services. For this reason, the government is investing $457.5 million to increase community capacity, including home and community care, to help reduce pressure on the health care system and expand the delivery of care.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, the government has already taken necessary action to provide easier and faster access to care:
- Enhanced access to virtual care so more patients can see their doctor by phone or video through the creation of temporary fee schedule codes;
- Provided over 240,000 virtual visits for nursing and rehab home care services since the COVID-19 outbreak began;
- Invested $26.75 million to address further demand for mental health and addictions services by enhancing community-based services for vulnerable populations, expanding virtual mental health and addictions services, and supporting Indigenous communities to meet the growing needs in their communities in a culturally safe way;
- Secured sufficient critical supplies and equipment, including personal protective equipment (PPE) to support current projected demands by purchasing PPE, and maintaining a provincial pandemic stockpile, and pursued Ontario-made solutions to build domestic manufacturing capacity across the province; and
- Announced five new Ontario Health Teams (OHTs) that will support better coordinated care, with 17 more in approval. This is in addition to the existing 24 OHTs already delivering care across the province.
Ontario will continue to protect the health and wellbeing of all Ontarians and ensure they can access the routine health services they need by:
- Expanding access to virtual emergency department services and giving patients the option of virtual pre- and post-surgery appointments, to support surgical care transitions when appropriate to do so;
- Helping up to 850 alternate levels of care patients access the right level of care in a home or community setting to help add more capacity in hospitals; and
- Increasing home and community care service volumes by investing $100 million to add an additional 484,000 nursing and therapy visits and 1.4 million personal support worker hours.
The province’s COVID-19 fall preparedness plan, Keeping Ontarians Safe: Preparing for Future Waves of COVID-19, is based on six pillars, which will:
- Maintain strong public health measures, including continued expansion of testing and case and contact management;
- Quickly identify, manage and prevent COVID-19 outbreaks;
- Accelerate efforts to reduce health service backlogs;
- Prepare for surges in COVID-19 cases;
- Recruit, retain, train and support health care workers, while also continuing to engage families and caregivers; and
- Implement the largest flu immunization campaign in Ontario’s history.