Ontario's 2017 budget increases hospital spending and funds prescription drugs
In April the Ontario government, led by Premier Kathleen Wynne, released its 2017 provincial budget which increases hospital spending by three percent this year and funds free prescription drug coverage for youth and children who are 24 years of age or younger. These commitments will improve patient care in our acute care settings and ease the burden on families that are struggling or unable to pay for the medication that their children need. Our association, which has long advocated for increased hospital funding and a national Pharmacare program, believe that the steps the Wynne government has taken in this year’s budget will advance our province’s strategy to make Ontario the best place in the world to live, work and grow old.
In addition to these commitments, the 2017 Ontario budget includes a number of other important provisions that will help nurses and other health care professional provide more effective and accessible care to their patients, residents and clients. The budget provides an overall funding increase for the health care sector, which includes the 3 percent increase for the hospital sector, and increases of 2 percent and 5 percent annually for the long-term care and community care sectors, respectively. These increases will help alleviate some of the pressure on the system as the government continues to advance its strategy of shifting the delivery of more care provided to non-acute patients out of our hospitals and closer to the home. As our population grows and ages, this strategy will not only help to provide people with safer care in more convenient and less costly community-based settings. It will also increase capacity in our hospitals, where our nurses and other health care providers are struggling to deliver care to more and more people with complex conditions.
But the additional dollars allocated in the budget for improving our health care system will not be enough to address the serious challenges that our province in facing as our provincial debt grows and the cost of our health care increases. For that reason our association was encouraged to see in the budget funding for a number of smart initiatives and programs intended to improve care now while positioning our province to meet the growing needs of our patients in the future.
The $24 million committed in the budget for new health care models for alternate level of care patients is one such initiative. This targeted investment will help ensure that these patients whose conditions do not require them to be cared for in hospitals will receive care in the setting that makes the most sense to them based on their needs. We believe that given their unparalleled expertise in caring for older Ontarians, the province’s RPNs are perfectly positioned to help lead these new care models so that non-acute patients can avoid unnecessary hospitals stays and live happier and healthier lives in their homes and communities. Ontario’s RPNs will also be encouraged to learn that the 2017 provincial budget also includes an additional $15 million in team-based primary care funding to create new or expand existing interprofessional care teams for the purpose of expanding people’s access to comprehensive primary care services and programs across the province. This funding will be in addition to the $145 dollars committed over the next three years to recruit and retain nurses, including Registered Practical Nurses, and other health care professionals who work on these teams to delivery care in community settings.
There is also funding in the budget for a new Dementia Strategy that will provide more than $100 million over three years to support people with dementia and those who care for them – a need that will only grow over the coming years as our population ages. Our association is especially encouraged by the 45 percent funding increase to Behavioural Supports Ontario, which will translate into significant benefits for older people with cognitive impairments. Because many of these interdisciplinary BSO teams include RPNs who have specialized education and skills in the care of dementia patients with responsive behaviours, we are very much looking forward to working with our partner associations in the long-term care sector to help advance this important initiative for the benefit of our province’s older adults.
Without question, however, the single most impactful announcement in the 2017 Ontario budget is the commitment to provide free drug coverage for everyone who is 24 years old and younger. Because of this announcement, no family in Ontario will have to worry about the inability to access life-saving drugs for their younger family members. Ontario’s RPNs have long been asking for this kind of coverage for everyone, based on their need, rather than on their income or ability to pay, and we believe that the government’s youth Pharmacare plan is a huge step in the right direction. We applaud what can only be described as a brave and forward-thinking move by Premier Kathleen Wynne and we hope that other provinces will follow Ontario’s lead and begin providing similar coverage to their populations. In the years to come, this program could stand as a landmark moment in the history of Canadian Medicare. As the professional association for nurses who understand the value of preventative care and the growing need for more effective and less costly upstream solutions to our greatest health care challenges, we sincerely hope that it does.