By Randy Richmond, The London Free Press
Southwestern Ontario’s mental health crisis took centre stage in the Ontario legislature Thursday during a debate over an NDP proposal to create a separate ministry on addiction and mental health.
Long waits in London’s psychiatric emergency department and student suicides last year demand government support of the private member’s bill, London West New Democrat MPP Peggy Sattler said.
“In my city of London, we have had people waiting for a week or more on a hallway stretcher in the London Health Sciences Centre emergency room waiting for a mental health bed,” Sattler said.
“That is unacceptable, it is inhumane and it cannot continue.”
Four students at the University of Guelph and five high-school students in Woodstock took their own lives last year, she said.
“There is a crisis in campus mental health across this province,” Sattler said.
A new Ministry of Mental Health and Addiction would stop the fragmentation of services created by having 11 different ministries handling the problem, she said.
But Elgin-Middlesex-London Conservative MPP Jeff Yurek cautioned against spending money on creating a new ministry.
“Creating a whole new ministry is going to take money away from much needed services in order to create the structure,” Yurek said during the debate.
“We need to focus on services, focus on service improvements. We don’t need to focus on restructuring government continually,” said Yurek, the PC health critic at Queen’s Park.
Health Minister Eric Hoskins said earlier this week, when the NDP announced its intentions, that he would need more time to consider the bill.
The new ministry would be charged with cutting wait lists and streamlining services across the province, the NDP says.
The NDP says the government has not taken action on recommendations made in 2010 by an all-party select committee that investigated the issue. At the time, that committee’s top recommendation was the establishment of an umbrella organization to deal with mental health and addictions issue similar to Cancer Care Ontario.
“Seven years later, Ontario still does not have a mental health and addictions system,” NDP Health Critic France Gélinas said in a release.
In June, British Columbia’s newly-elected NDP government announced it would create its own stand-alone ministry to tackle the addictions crisis in that province.