The Ontario Medical Association (OMA) found that Newmarket residents wait 70 per cent longer than the provincial average for an MRI and it has released a plan to address this and other health care issues.
According to Ontario Health, Southlake Regional Health Centre priority-two patients were scanned for an MRI, on average, within one day — exceeding the provincially recommended two-day target timeframe.
However, priority-four patients — who should be scanned within 28 days — waited 94 days compared to the 65-day provincial average and compared to the 28-day average for Mackenzie Health patients.
Southlake said in an email that the average wait for an MRI in 2019-20 was 44 days, while the average as of April 2022 was 80 days, when asked about average MRI wait times at the Newmarket hospital.
As of March 31, 2022, there are 224 beds at Southlake Residential Care Village with a wait list of 558 for a basic room and 413 for a private room.
“People across Ontario are waiting longer for surgeries and MRIs than the province’s own recommendations, and some of the wait times are even longer for patients here in Peel and York Region and nearby communities,” said Dr. Sohal Goyal, chair of OMA district 5. “Physicians and other health-care workers are doing everything they can to get patients the care they need, but they need help from the province.”
In 2021 OMA launched an online survey — the largest in its 140-year history — to discover the health care priorities of Ontarians and how the delivery of health care can be improved.
More than 7,700 Ontarians — 27 per cent of whom were from the 905 area of the GTA — participated in the survey.
The survey found that the most important health care priority for Ontarians — indicated by 29.6 per cent of participants — was wait times, followed by home care and long-term care.
Almost 50 per cent of those surveyed said addressing the cracks in the health-care system was as important as the economic recovery after the pandemic.
Based on survey results, OMA released its Prescription for Ontario: Doctors’ 5-Point Plan for Better Health Care plan with 87 recommendations for fixing gaps in the health-care system.
The five main recommendations in the plan are to reduce wait times and the backlog of services, expand mental health and addiction services in the community, improve home care and other community care, strengthen public health and pandemic preparedness and give every patient a team of health-care providers and link them digitally.
To reduce backlogs and shorten wait times exacerbated by the pandemic, OMA recommends more services be delivered in community-based specialty settings, outside of hospitals, the expansion of MRI and CT machine hours and that a greater emphasis is put on educating young people about healthy lifestyles and disease prevention.
At least one million Ontarians don’t have a family doctor, according to OMA, and supporting students from remote, rural and racialized communities to go to medical school and increase the number of medical student and residency positions using forecasted population need are some of the ways shortages can be addressed.
The Canadian Mental Health Association states 50 per cent of the population will have, or have had, a mental health illness by age 40 and in 2020 a survey by the Mental Health Commission of Canada and Conference Board of Canada found 84 per cent of respondents said their mental health concerns grew since the start of the pandemic.
OMA proposes increased funding for community-based mental health and addiction teams where psychiatrists, addiction medicine specialists, family doctors, nurses, psychologists, psychotherapists and social workers work together.
It also recommends mental health and substance awareness initiatives in schools and communities and reducing the stigma that surrounds mental health and addiction.
Among doctors who responded to the survey, 85 per cents said increasing access to home care would improve health outcomes for their patients or allow them to remain in their homes longer.
Increased funding for home care and the recruitment of qualified staff to provide it is recommended in the plan as well as the development of a provincewide standard and tax relief for families employing a full-time caregiver.
A chief medical officer of health for long-term care for each Ontario Health region should be appointed, according to the plan, as well as expansion of virtual care to link LTC homes with hospitals.
Caring for older adults should be "considered one of the most important jobs in the world," the plan states.
Included in the recommendations is the adoption of Integrated Ambulatory Centres - publicly funded, free-standing centres enabling less complex surgeries and procedures to be performed on an outpatient basis and relieve the pressure on hospitals.
Ahead of the provincial election, OMA is calling on all three parties to adopt its plan to fix health care in Ontario.
“Health care is the No. 1 issue in this election campaign,” said OMA CEO Allan O’Dette in a media release. “The most important lesson we learned during the pandemic is how important it is to have a strong health-care system if you want to have strong and healthy economy.”
OMA represents more than 43,000 Ontario physicians, medical students and retired physicians. It advocates for and supports doctors while strengthening the leadership role of doctors in caring for patients. Its vision is to be the trusted voice in transforming Ontario’s health-care system.