Ontario is investing $110 million with the goal of connecting more than 300,000 people to primary care teams, Health Minister Sylvia Jones said Thursday.
The new money will go toward the province’s efforts to make sure everyone in Ontario has a primary care provider, she said.
“We won’t stop until everyone who wants a primary care provider can access one,” Jones said at a news conference in Peterborough, Ont.
Jones said $90 million will help recruit 400 new providers who will join 78 new and expanded primary care teams across the province. This is expected to connect 328,000 patients to a primary care team, Jones said.
Primary care teams are made up of, among others, physicians, nurse practitioners, registered and practical nurses, physiotherapists and social workers.
There are currently 1.3 million people in Ontario without a primary care provider, which includes clinics run by nurse practitioners, the province said. Jones said about 90 per cent of Ontarians have some sort of primary care coverage.
“We know there is still much work to do to close the gap for Ontarians who are not currently connected to a primary care provider,” she said.
The province has said it hopes to have 98 per cent of patients covered by a primary care team by 2032.
The Ontario Medical Association says there are 2.3 million Ontarians without a primary care doctor, a number that has increased significantly in recent years.
That number is expected to double in just two years, said Dr. Andrew Park, president of the association.
“We have called for investments in teams to improve access to care and ensure that doctors and healthcare professionals are able to do what they do best, care for their patients,” Park said.
“Today’s news is a big step in that direction.”
Earlier this week, the OMA called on the province to immediately address the shortage of family doctors. There are currently 2,500 open physician positions across the province, the association said. About 40 per cent of Ontario doctors plan to retire in the next five years, an OMA survey of its members shows. The Registered Nurses Association said it was “delighted” with the funding announced Thursday.
“Today’s investment marks the start of a long-needed renewed focus on primary care in the province and a sign that the government understands the depth of the gap in access to primary care “, said Doris Grinspun, executive director of the association.
The news comes days after a Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, said 10,000 of its patients will be laid off due to retirements and doctors closing their practices.
“Our immediate goal is to stabilize our operations and continue to provide care to 50,000 patients in our community,” said a letter from Group Health Center to patients last week.
Jones called the problem in the northern Ontario city “deeply disturbing.”
“The community of Sault Ste. Marie presented two proposals that will be funded by this program,” she said.
A year ago, Jones committed $30 million to open 18 new primary care teams across the province and launched an application process.
Jones’ office said it was inundated with hundreds of requests and decided to triple the investment to $90 million.
78 teams. An additional $20 million will be provided to all existing primary care teams to cover operational costs and supplies.