30,000 hospital beds over the next decade - really? There were 35,194 acute-care beds in 1990.

Rivers 100x100By Ray Rivers

May 3rd, 2018



Although Doug Ford has slipped a tad in the polls he is still very much in majority territory. So what would a Ford government mean for the health of our health system. Ford claims he’ll add 30,000 hospital beds over the next decade – two and half terms in office.

How does anyone come up with a figure like that? I guess if you want people to believe something you make it sound spectacular. I’m not saying he won’t or doesn’t intend to live up to that promise of creating more beds and bed spaces. But does he even know how many beds are in service today?

Hospital-Beds-MarketThe Ontario Hospital Association likes to share a wealth of statistics with its clients. There are 145 hospitals in the province, employing 200,000 people. They do over 350,000 in-patient surgeries and 1.2 million out-patient surgeries and treat 6.3 million emergency patient visits each year. But nobody is saying anything about how many beds are in service. That may be because the number of beds is only one, and not the best measure of how a health care system is performing.

Aren’t doctors telling patients these days that they need to avoid staying in a hospital any longer than absolutely necessary – that the last place you want to be when you’re sick is in a hospital bed if you can avoid it. These places are crawling with infections with scary sounding names like strep and MRSA. There are horror stories of some patients coming home sicker than when they went in.

It’s everywhere yet our healthcare system generally does a good job. Oh sure health care, especially among seniors, is such a common topic that when you ask ten people about the quality of delivery you’ll get eleven different opinions, depending on the day. But a recent Conference Board study of health care systems overall among 30 global jurisdictions places Ontario seventh.


Perhaps Australia gets help from the lowly (duck billed) platypus, the milk of which research indicates may have properties that protect against infections.

Only B.C. which placed third, scored better among Canadian jurisdictions. Ontario scored better than the Canadian average and beat all but four European nations each of which spend considerably more than we do, and Australia. Perhaps Australia gets help from the lowly (duck billed) platypus, the milk of which research indicates may have properties that protect against infections resistant to antibiotics (MSRA).

Moreover, according to the Fraser Institute, Ontario has the lowest hospital wait times in the country, almost a third less than New Brunswick. And yes, those times have increased since 1993, as have all of those in Canada, but so have the demands of an aging population.


Former Premier of Ontario Mike Harris

1993 was only two years before Mike Harris’ Common Sense Revolution in which Harris promised to leave health care untouched by his cost-cutting surgical knife. But that wasn’t what happened. As he closed hospitals and cut staff, wait times grew to the highest in Canada. It is not an exaggeration to say that some patients were literally dying in the corridors waiting to get into heart surgery, Others had to be transported to the USA for radiotherapy or an MRI, as we recall.

Back then Globe and Mail columnist John Ibbitson went through journalistic perdition trying to get the Harris government to simply tell him the number of operable hospital beds. It turns out that there had been 35,194 acute-care hospital beds in Ontario in 1990.

But a decade later, after only five years into Harris’ revolution, bed numbers had fallen to 21,805, a decline of 38 per cent. “Chronic-care beds declined by 32 per cent over the decade, from 11,436 to 7,787. During that time, Ontario’s population grew by 1.3 million (9 per cent) and its mean age increased by a year and a half, to 36.9 years”.

So it may be a little hard to take Doug Ford seriously with his 30,000 bed promise, while also hearing him promise to bring back Harris-like cuts of overall government spending by six billion dollars. Everybody knows that when it comes to cutting, the most vulnerable area and biggest target is health care. We’ve seen this movie before.

Ontario has the best health care system in Canada given the reviews on overall quality and wait times. But it is also the most efficient in Canada with the lowest per capita cost in the country. It could always be better of course, but it could also be a lot worse.

Ford Doug

Doug Ford – wants to be the next Premier of Ontario

Doug Ford may well become our next premier. But before he wins the support of Ontario voters he needs to do more than just pick a number (30,000 beds) out of the air. The truth is that the Liberals have done a good job in restoring and managing the health care system over the last decade and a half. In fact, the full implementation of pharmacare and other provisions presented in the last budget will make it even better.

Ford needs to convince the province’s voters, particularly its senior citizens and parents of young children who are the heaviest users of our health care system, that he can do at least as well. He needs to convince us that he is not going to pull another Mike Harris on us.

Rivers hand to faceRay Rivers writes regularly on both federal and provincial politics, applying his more than 25 years as a federal bureaucrat to his thinking.  Rivers was once a candidate for provincial office in Burlington.  He was the founder of the Burlington citizen committee on sustainability at a time when climate warming was a hotly debated subject.     Tweet @rayzrivers

Background links:

Ford Leading Polls –   Conference Board Report –    Frazer Institute Report

Spending Pre Capita –    International Health Costs –    Hospital Details

Ford Promises –    Ibbitson

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10 comments to 30,000 hospital beds over the next decade – really? There were 35,194 acute-care beds in 1990.

  • Susan L.

    Both the Liberals and the Conservatives, including the Federal Government, have made cuts to healthcare almost continuously over the last 20 years.

    To argue as to which government made the most cuts is fruitless. It doesn’t make much difference who you vote for, the cuts will probably continue.

    BTW, I’m a nonpartisan voter.

  • Ray Rivers

    KJ thanks for your comment. If we don’t know our past it is hard to predict the future.

  • D.Duck

    Also Ray,

    Why don’t you talk about the LTC bed issues and the lack of Healthcare supervision leading to the Elder Abuse atrocities noted this week in the news. Under whose watch did this happen??

  • KJ

    This article rambled and strayed and turned into the same old tired anti-Mike Harris routine and still managed to not provide what the writer hinted at Doug Ford not knowing at the start of the article: the number of acute care beds currently in Ontario. It’s difficult to gauge how serious or simplistic Ford’s promise is without knowing what 30,000 beds means relative to current levels.

    Oh and Ray? The only thing the Liberals have been good at over the last decade is pouring money down a bottomless pit. Government bureaucrats have done quite well though (wink wink).

  • Gary

    Yeah, I too was kind of disappointed that Rivers didn’t tell us what is the current inventory of beds.

  • Ray Rivers

    Awesome comment Mr. Duck. Much food for thought. Thanks


  • D.Duck

    You are a terrific writer and politician. Partial truths are half-lies just said with a smile, a wink and nod of confidence. With that, you expect the naive and gullible surfs to stare up at you with wonder. This is the same game all politicians play, even most Burlington City councillors. What you don’t get is, that most of us are not neophytes to this poker game and in fact, many of us are card counters

    I could not find your vague reference to the Conference Board study of health care systems that you quote so it’s hard to assess the validity of your comments or who was the author(s) of the publication and if they had any bias to their publication.

    But here are just a few article to preview:

    1) Plea%20from%20dying%20teen:%20Please%20help%20%7C%20Toronto%20Star.webarchive…..
    3) Canada%20comes%20up%20short%20in%20international%20survey%20of%20family%20doctors%20-%20The%20Globe%20and%20Mail.webarchive………..CDN FAMILY DOCTORS COMPARED TO INTERNATION…NOT SO GOOD
    4) Why%20must%20ER%20patients%20wait%20so%20long%20for%20a%20hospital%20bed%3F%20-%20The%20Globe%20and%20Mail.webarchive…..WHY THERE IS ‘ER GRIDLOC’…….BED SHORTAGE
    5) More%20than%2045,000%20Canadians%20sought%20medical%20treatment%20outside%20the%20 country:%20Fraser.webarchive…….WHY 45,000 CDN SOUGHT HEALTHCARE OUTSIDE OF CDN…WAIT TIMES
    6) Ontario%20among%20priciest%20health%20care%20systems%20in%20the%20world%20%7C%20 GOLDSTEIN%20%7C%20Opinion%20%7C.webarchive…….ONTARIO IS AMONG PRICEST HEALTHCARE IN THE WORLD
    7) LHINs%20and%20the%20governance%20of%20 Ontario’s%20health%20care%20system%20-%20Healthy%20Debate.webarchive…..LHINs ARE COSTLY AND AVG 6/15 ON HEALTHCARE QUALITY PROFORMANCE INDICATORS…..I WOULD BE FIRED FOR HAVING THIS POOR RATING
    8 ) Cutting%20hospitals%20to%20pay%20for%20 hydr.webarchive………NORTH BAY CUTS HOSPITAL STAFF FOR WYNNE’S HYDRO MISTAKE
    9) https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2017/04/16/surge-in-patients-forces-ontario-hospitals-to-put-beds-in-unconventional-spaces.html…………HOSPITALS PLACES PTS IN UNCONVENTIONAL SPACES
    10) This%20report%20just%20shredded%20every%20myth%20claiming%20Canadian%20medicare%20is%20 superior%20—%20or%20fair%20%7C%20Financial%20Po.webarchive…..A MUST READ ON CDN COMPARED TO INTERNATION COMMUNITY AND THE MYTH OF OUR HEALTHCARE
    11) Health%20care’s%20free%20in%20Canada,%20right%3F%20Wrong,%20and%20you’re%20paying%20a% 20 lot%20more%20than%20you%20think%20%7C%20Financial%20.webarchive……EXCELLENT ABOUT COST OF HEALTHCARE AND THE FACT THAT IT IS NOT FREE BUT COMES FROM OUR TAXES.
    12) Mortality%20of%20hospitalised%20internal%20medicine%20patients%20bedspaced%20to%20non-internal%20medicine%20inpatient%20un.webarchive…..EXCELLENT JOURNAL ARTICLE ON WHAT HAPPENDS WHEN BEDS NOT FOUND IN APPROPRIATE WARDS
    13) https://www.cihi.ca/en/access-data-reports/results?f%5B0%5D=field_primary_theme%3A2063…..CIHI ARTICLE ON COMPARISON OF INTERNATIONAL COUNTRIES AND CDN HEALTHCARE IS JUST MEDIOCRE

    The capitals above are not yelling but a way to distinguish my comment from the few articles easily found.

    Here is the kicker, please see article ‘1’ above and what the Doctors said about the fear of reprisal and reprimands if they don’t toe the MOH party line. YIKES, so much for being an advocate for your patients. So how do we fixed the system when front line Healthcare professions (RNs, Doc, PSW, ward clerks, etc) have no input because big Sister knows best.

    Finally, the number of Ontario Healthcare bureaucrats now OUTNUMBER the total number of Family Physicians in Ontario (https://torontosun.com/news/provincial/more-health-care-fewer-bureaucrats-ontarios-front-line-doctors).

    So, let’s be fair:
    Harris = Trump
    Wynne = Trump with brains but same super-ego
    Ford = Brother with mouth wide open

    PS: What ever happened to the annual ‘NO TAX’ McGuinty healthcare premium that is still being collected??
    PSS: if only Christine had won PC nomination!!

  • Ley

    They have the beds….not enough staff!!

  • Phillip

    Nice anti-Harris rant, Ray, but perhaps you might have informed us what has happened with hospital beds during the Liberal interregnum. We do know that patients seem to be held in temporary facilities in hallways as reported in the press frequently during the last winter–this suggests a serious shortage. Of course, much of the problem which will only become more serious with aging boomers is that acute-care hospital beds are being used for chronic-care patients because there are no other facilities to care for them. I applaud Ford for promising to create 10000 more beds and hopefully this will not be a “stretch goal”–a term used by one of your seeming favourites.

  • Susan L.

    I couldn’t even find out how many new beds were added to Joseph Brant Hospital’s new wing. Admittedly, I didn’t look very hard.

    I think it’s possible that the Liberals and the P.C.s would like our healthcare to be so broken that we would demand private healthcare, like they have in the U.S. Some people are already suggesting more private healthcare. Imagine how much money the Politicians would have to work with in the budget if they could cut the cost of healthcare drastically. No more deficits? Some people are already suggesting we need more private healthcare. The biggest problem with that idea is, the private sector only wants to take the more profitable services.

    I recently read, “This province now has the fewest hospital beds left per person of any province in Canada, the least amount of RN and RPN nursing care per patient in hospital, the lowest hospital funding in the country and the highest rate of hospital readmissions. In fact, among all OECD nations, Ontario ranks right at the bottom in the number of hospital beds left per person. Only Mexico and Chile of all developed nations have fewer.”

    So, Ford claims he’ll add 30,000 hospital beds over the next decade? Maybe the first increase in beds will come in year 5. We’ve all seen that trick before, and from all political stripes.