RNAO hails progressive budget

TORONTO, April 27, 2017 /CNW/ - Measures unveiled in Thursday's provincial budget demonstrate that the government is committed to progressive health, social, and environmental policies that promote the well-being of Ontarians.

Members of the Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario (RNAO) say the province's decision to provide drug coverage for every person under the age of 25 is a significant step towards the creation of a universal pharmacare plan for all Ontarians. RNAO's Chief Executive Officer Doris Grinspun says, "this move will improve health outcomes for children and youth, and will result in lower heath system costs over the long term."

Another example of the province's population health approach is its commitment to fund supervised injection services. "This decision demonstrates the government is committed to addressing the rising number of deaths of people struggling with addiction. "We commend Premier Kathleen Wynne and Health Minister Eric Hoskins for demonstrating that addiction is a disease like any other." The funding, which is being covered completely by the province, will pay for renovations and operating costs at three facilities in Toronto and one in Ottawa. Grinspun says "SIS will offer people dignity, respect and access to nursing services in a safe and supportive environment."

Anticipated in the budget is funding for offloading devices, which help people with diabetes and foot ulcers avoid painful and life-altering amputations. Without public funding for these devices, Ontarians are forced to pay out of pocket, which costs between $150 and $1,500. "Many simply can't afford it," says Grinspun. As a result, each year an estimated 2,000 people have limb amputations at a cost of $74,000 per limb. Grinspun says this funding will offset great personal suffering and overall greater costs to the taxpayer.

Funding of $15 million for interprofessional teams in primary care is welcome news as is the pledge to increase by $145 million compensation for primary care health professions, including nurse practitioners (NP) and registered nurses over three years. "This builds on last year's commitment of $85 million and will help retain and recruit nurses," says Grinspun. 

RNAO is also pleased people will have greater access to NPs now that they have been given the authority to prescribe controlled substances such as opioids for pain management, treatment of addiction, and to help people who want access to medical assistance in dying. Grinspun says the next logical step is to expand NP scope further by authorizing them to order MRIs and CT scans.

Grinspun says she is delighted to see language in the budget fulfilling a long-standing promise to expand RN scope of practice to include independent prescribing and the authority to communicate diagnoses. "We urge the government to move quickly to make the necessary legislative and regulatory changes so that people have greater access to care delivered by an RN." RNAO expects to see the first RN prescribers in Ontario this year. "The real winners of this announcement will be the people of Ontario who will see faster access to care," says Grinspun.   

RNAO is pleased with the three per cent increase in hospital funding. However, no increase in funding will deliver good outcomes for Ontarians if RNs continue to be replaced by less qualified health professionals. "Ontario must attach conditions to this funding to hire more RNs and end the dangerous practice of RN replacement," says RNAO President Carol Timmings. There is clear evidence linking care provided by registered nurses with better health outcomes. In fact, the deputy minister of health Bob Bell is on record supporting that "patients classified as having tertiary or quaternary needs that are in acute care hospitals require RN care, as do most cancer patients." "The time to move to all RN staffing in Ontario's acute care hospitals is now," Timmings emphasizes.

The association says it's disappointed the budget failed to mention the 4,200 care co-ordinators, who are transitioning from Community Care Access Centres to Local Health Integration Networks. If the government wants Ontarians to experience a more seamless and integrated health system, the care co-ordinators, most of whom are RNs, must be located in primary care settings as soon as possible. And RNAO argues their focus must be broadened beyond home and long term care, to include navigating patients and families to community support, hospice and palliative care, and mental health and addiction services. "A health system that is not anchored in primary care cannot be a high performing health system," says Timmings adding that "Ontario will continue to lag behind other countries because its lack of focus on primary care."  

The government says it is committed to supporting vulnerable seniors living in long-term care. Nurses do as well. However, the two per cent increase only keeps up with inflation and does not address woefully inadequate staffing levels in this sector.

The province's much touted plan to deal with the high cost of housing is also welcome.  "Expanding rent control to protect more tenants addresses the cost pressures for struggling people," says Timmings. She says a broader housing plan and investment is needed to address affordability, including the housing crisis across Ontario where more than 170,000 households are waiting 4 to 14 years for affordable housing.  In its pre-budget submission to the government, RNAO recommended earmarking one per cent of the province's total budget for affordable housing. "Such a move would result in the construction of thousands of desperately needed new units, including accessible units, and provide enough money to address the backlog of existing units in need of repair."

The launch of a basic income guarantee is another example of progressive social policy says RNAO.  "This is a significant step to improve the lives of Ontarians with low or no income," says Timmings. However, Timmings says a pilot program for 4,000 people barely makes a dent in helping the 1.57 million Ontarians who live in poverty. If the government is serious about combating poverty, she says a more comprehensive approach is needed, including boosting the minimum wage to $15 per hour, increasing social assistance rates above the promised two per cent, and enhancing access to paid sick days for those in precarious employment. "There is a direct link between poverty and illness and without significant movement in these key areas, taxpayers will end up paying more for health care in the long run, while Ontarians will continue to suffer from poor health," says Timmings.

RNAO welcomes funding for health and social supports for inmates in Ontario jails. Timmings insists, however, the responsibility for the health care of inmates be transferred from the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services to the Ministry of Health and Long-Term, a move that B.C., Alberta and Nova Scotia have already taken.     

RNAO applauds other measures mentioned in the budget including:

  • $26 million to expand support for children, youth and families affected by Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.
  • Funding for a new dementia care strategy to expand care and support services.
  • Providing free nicotine replacement products and investing in smoking cessation programs.
  • $145 million for over three years to provide supportive housing for those with mental health and/or addiction challenges who are homeless or at risk of being homeless.
  • $90 million over three years to the Community Homelessness Prevention Initiatives to help families and individuals stay in their homes or get the housing they need.

The association also welcomes the implementation of Ontario's carbon pricing program – cap and trade. It sends an important signal to carbon emitters to economize on energy, and generates much-needed revenue to combat climate change, such as adoption of low-carbon technologies; energy efficiency in schools; energy retrofits of social housing; commuter cycling infrastructure; and electric vehicle charging infrastructure. Also positive is Ontario's ten-year $56 billion commitment for public transit. These measures will make for healthier housing, schools and transportation.

RNAO is the professional association representing registered nurses, nurse practitioners, and nursing students in Ontario. Since 1925, RNAO has advocated for healthy public policy, promoted excellence in nursing practice, increased nurses' contribution to shaping the health-care system, and influenced decisions that affect nurses and the public they serve. For more information about RNAO, visit our website at RNAO.ca or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

SOURCE Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario

For further information: Marion Zych, Director of Communications, RNAO, Cell: 647-406-5605 / Phone: 416-408-5605, mzych@RNAO.ca

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