TORONTO - Ontario hospitals are being forced to lay off nurses because the Liberal government has frozen their budgets for three years, NDP health critic France Gelinas charged Monday.
Hospitals in Cambridge, Sarnia, Sudbury, Ottawa, Timmins and North Bay all plan to cut nursing positions to eliminate any deficits and balance their books as required by law, added Gelinas.
"We all know that it is patients that will pay the price of these nursing cuts," Gelinas said during question period. "Minister, how many more nurses will lose their jobs and how many patients will suffer before the Liberals stop these painful cuts to our front-line nurses?"
Health Minister Eric Hoskins insisted there are more nurses than ever working in the province's health-care facilities, and said it was normal for hospitals to alter staffing levels as they introduce new programs and retire old ones.
"Hospitals and other facilities evolve, change and add and subtract programs to better serve their constituents or their catchment area," said Hoskins. "Sometimes individuals are let go or laid off; others are hired. There's an ebb and flow that takes place regularly."
Outside the legislature, Gelinas said she was "disappointed" Hoskins would not admit that the Liberals' budget freeze is having a direct impact on front-line health-care services.
"Those are not 'ebb and flow.' Those are the result of hospitals having to face flat-line budgets for three years in a row," Gelinas said of the layoffs. "The first step in addressing a problem is to admit that you have one. He's not there yet."
The Liberals promised during last year's election they would not cut front-line health-care services, but that's exactly what is happening, added Gelinas.
"Cutting 50 nurses at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario will leave sick kids with less care," she said. "Seventy-five positions are being eliminated in North Bay hospital. In Sarnia, it's 39 nurses who are being cut, and nearly 40 positions will be lost in Timmins."
There are 24,000 more nurses working in Ontario today than when the Liberals were first elected in 2003, said Hoskins, who noted 3,400 were hired in 2013 alone, the last year for which figures are available.
"The percentage of those nurses who are working full time has gone up significantly over the past decade as well," he said. "I understand that (Gelinas) wants to try to score some political points, but she should understand ... what the reality is."
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