ON Council of Hospital Unions president Michael Hurley and William Charney were in Cornwall, ON to speak about the high number of people affected by medical errors and hospital-acquired infections in Canada.
Credits: KATHRYN BURNHAM/QMI AGENCY
TORONTO - Medical mistakes kill, maim and injure thousands of Ontarians each year, cost the province billions and will only be made worse under the health-care restraint now squeezing the system, author William Charney says.
"The austerity approach is exactly the wrong thing to do," Charney said Wednesday at a Queen's Park news conference sponsored by the Canadian Union of Public Employees and the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions.
"You couldn't find a policy or a political approach that is going to do more harm, in the short term, to try and save money."
Charney, an occupational health specialist and former environmental health director of San Francisco's public health department, has just published a book called Epidemic of Medical Errors and Hospital-Acquired Infections.
He says up to 63,000 Canadians die each year from medical mistakes - the equivalent of three jumbo jets crashing each week.
"These are crazy numbers because people are just not paying attention," Charney said.
"They're killing people, they're wounding people, the morbidity rates, the mortality rates are very high."
The main culprits, he said, are staff overburdened with too many patients, over-long shifts and difficult working conditions. He noted studies show ideal staff-to-patient ratios are 1 to 4, while typical Canadian ratios are 1 to 9. Mistakes increase dramatically as those ratios rise.
He saId cracking down on doctor pay, as the government is doing now, won't help.
"The fault is in the system. And if the system wants to single out doctors because we pay them too much, that's a smokescreen. That's not what's wrong."
Health Minister Deb Matthews is now trying to ratchet down the rate of growth in health spending from 7% to 2.5% over the next six years.
One main thrust of the restraint has been to try to freeze overall compensation for doctors for the next two years, a proposal that is fiercely opposed by the Ontario Medical Association.
She said Ontario is a global leader measuring health care quality and has made it mandatory for hospitals to report their rates of hospital-acquired infections, surgical mistakes, and hand-washing online.
"And we now tie compensation for senior executives to achieving quality improvement targets," Matthews said.
"We're measuring outcomes and we're improving outcomes."
Matthews also said keeping a lid on health spending does not mean poorer care.
"Our focus is very much in improving quality and improving quality doesn't cost money," she said.
"I reject the notion that you can't improve quality and at the same time be fiscally responsible."