Ontario to be short 33,000 nurses and PSWs in five years: financial watchdog

By Liam Casey and Allison Jones

Ontario is projected to be short 33,000 nurses and personal support workers in five years despite Premier Doug Ford’s investment in the sector, the province’s fiscal watchdog said in a special health-care report released Wednesday.

The Financial Accountability Office also said the province has allocated $21 billion less than what is needed to cover its commitments over the next five years to expand hospitals, long-term care and home care.

Ontario’s health-care system has buckled in recent years with severe staffing shortages that have led to temporary emergency room closures, a massive surgical backlog and fed-up patients.

“Relative to projected growth in demand, by 2027-28, Ontario will have less hospital capacity, similar home-care capacity and less long-term care capacity compared to what it had in 2019-20,” wrote Financial Accountability Officer Peter Weltman in the report.

The financial watchdog said the province could address the funding shortfall by incrementally spending more in upcoming budgets and a boost from Ontario’s ballooning contingency fund.

Ford took issue with the report, calling it a “snapshot in time.”

“We’re throwing everything in the kitchen sink at health-care,” Ford said.

A spokeswoman for Health Minister Sylvia Jones said the province is investing heavily in health care, has reduced wait times for key surgeries and “broke records” by registering more new nurses in 2022.

Hannah Jensen said Ontario will use money from the pending health-care deal with the federal government to hire more nurses and sign up more people with family doctors.

The province is in the midst of an ambitious plan to reform health care and alleviate strain on the system.

Nursing shortages caused emergency departments to shutter temporarily for days or even weeks at a time last year. Pediatric hospitals were overwhelmed in the fall as they dealt with thousands of really sick children in intensive care units and emergency departments.

Nearly 12,000 children are awaiting surgery and more than half of them have waited beyond the clinically recommended time.

That is part of the roughly 200,000 Ontarians who are on the surgical wait list.

As part of its reform efforts, the province has tabled legislation that will see more cataract surgeries performed in private clinics. It is also creating a new surgical system for hip and knee replacement procedures to be done in private clinics.

Ford has said patients will not have to pay for the services, but critics have warned of upselling by the private clinics.