Horwath’s NDP plans to staff up Northern health care to shorten wait times

Official Opposition Leader Andrea Horwath is in Sault Ste. Marie Monday committing to fix the chronic shortage of doctors, nurses and other health care professionals in the North.

“Northerners are waiting too long and travelling too far to get the health care they need. Without enough doctors, nurses and specialists, people wait hours and hours in the ER, they wait to see specialists, and they wait in pain for surgery. Without enough family doctors, chronic conditions like high blood pressure can go unmanaged. And a lot of northerners are simply hitting the highway, driving hours away to get the care they need and deserve,” said Horwath.

“We’ve got to fix it. And together, we can fix it. With more doctors and nurses, we can help people get care sooner, closer to home. It’s time to invest in Northern health care.”

Sault Ste. Marie needs at least 20 more doctors, just to keep hospitals afloat. People visiting the emergency room in the Sault wait at least four hours to see a doctor, and average of 4.8 hours to be admitted. Across the North, more than 300 doctors are needed.

The previous Liberal government, including Steven Del Duca and Kathleen Wynne, froze hospital funding for years, cutting 1,600 nurses. On top of cuts and underspending, Doug Ford has made the staffing shortage worse with a low-wage policy, which is disrespecting nurses and other health care professionals, and driving them away.

On Monday, Horwath and the NDP will force a vote in the legislature to commit resources and dollars to start to fix the doctor, nurse and specialist shortage in the North. It would fund a plan to attract, train and retain nurses, physicians, and specialists in Northern Ontario, expand the number of seats and training opportunities at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, and the repeal of Ford’s low-wage police, Bill 124. The NDP is also committed to fixing the Northern Health Travel Grant for times when families do have to travel to get the care they need and deserve.

Natalee Martin

“In order to see my family doctor in my home town of Burlington, I need to take a minimum of three days off of work — one to drive eight hours from Sault Ste. Marie, where I live; one for the appointment; and one to travel back home. To see my specialist for fertility treatment, I needed to be out of town for one full week, once every month. Had they been in town, I could easily just take a half day for an appointment, or stopped by my specialist’s office on my way to work. This is a significant difference in time needed off work.”

Horwath will move the following motion on Wednesday, March 23:


Whereas the shortage of health care workers creates barriers to timely care in Ontario’s northern, rural and remote communities, and lack of access to family medicine, mental health care, addiction treatment resources and other important services contribute to shorter life expectancies for Northerners compared to other Ontarians; and

Whereas the pandemic has exposed the problems caused by the underfunding of Northern Ontario healthcare by successive Liberal and Conservative governments, and Ford government policies such as the Protecting a Sustainable Public Sector for Future Generations Act, 2019 (previously Bill 124) intensify the staffing challenges faced by northern communities; and

Whereas vacancies for physicians and specialists have resulted in emergency departments and other hospital wings closing, cancellation of urgent care clinic services and wait times of up to 18 months for counselling and therapy services for children and youth in communities across Northern Ontario; and

Whereas Northern health teams have experienced difficulty retaining doctors due to high workloads and lack of access to integrated services, and emergency room patients can average wait times of up to 19 hours before being admitted to hospital; and

Whereas health care providers and advocates such as the Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM) and the Ontario Medical Association call for an urgent and immediate infusion of over 300 doctors, 100 specialists, and a minimum of 40 mental health practitioners to address healthcare needs in the region, and the Northern Policy Institute calls for the establishment of a Northern Mental Health and Addictions Centre of Excellence to address the unique challenges of service and program delivery in Northern Ontario; and

Whereas NOSM and other stakeholders cite the need for measures to attract, train and retain doctors to include increasing training spaces from 64 to 100 students per year as well as improved access to housing and family supports;

Therefore, the Legislative Assembly calls on the Ford government to immediately fund and implement a plan to attract, train and retain nurses, physicians, and specialists in Northern Ontario that includes the expansion of training opportunities at NOSM; supports for housing, transportation, and family services and the repeal of Bill 124.

Andrea Horwath