Rural and northern panel report finally released

It finished its work last February, but the final report of Ontario’s Rural and Northern Health Care Panel was finally released mid-December.

The McGuinty government had promised a review in their 2007 election platform. However, it wasn’t until after a number of smaller communities started organizing around cuts to their local hospitals, including a major rally at Queen’s Park, did the government appoint the panel in 2009.

The work of the panel is very preliminary. It includes potential definitions of what is rural, remote and northern for planning purposes. It also sets out a framework which outlines a vision, guiding principles, planning standards and decision guides, strategies and guidelines for the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care as well as the Local Health Integration Networks.

The panel recognized the urgency for acting — the health status of Ontarians living outside the major urban areas includes a lower life expectancy, a higher percentage of residents reporting fair/poor health status, and a significantly higher level of individuals aged 20 to 64 as being overweight.   

The panel defines its vision as “a health care system that provides appropriate access and achieves equitable outcomes for rural, remote and northern Ontarians.”

The panel underlines its recommended planning guides are not rules. However, they set an accessibility target for planning that includes

  • 90 per cent of residents in a community or local hub will receive primary care within 30 minutes travel time from their place of residence;
  • 90 per cent of residents in a community or local hub will receive emergency services (24/7/52) within 30 minutes travel time from their place of residence;
  • 90 per cent of residents in a community or local hub will receive basic inpatient hospital services within one hour travel time from their place of residence;
  • 90 per cent of residents in a community or local hub will receive specialty inpatient hospital and tertiary diagnostic services within four hours travel time from their place of residence.

A rural community is defined as having a population of less than 30,000 that are greater than 30 minutes away in travel time from a community with a population of more than 30,000.

Northern communities are those within the two Northern LHINs.

Remote communities are those without year-round road access.

The next phase of this work includes public consultation.

 To read the final report of the panel, go to:

http://www.health.gov.on.ca/en/public/programs/ruralnorthern/docs/report_rural_northern_EN.pdf

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