Ontario’s health minister came under fire Tuesday for doing nothing to stop plans to pull the plug on long-term cardiac rehabilitation services in London.
With former health minister Deb Matthews not seeking re-election in her London North Centre riding, but backing a hospital plan to close the cardiac fitness institute, and Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek now demanding the institute be revived, the centre’s fate is likely to become a London issue in the June provincial election.
“Once again, we are seeing the results of years of Liberal cuts and underfunding to our health-care system,” said Yurek, the health critic for the opposition Progressive Conservatives.
Yurek said it’s “astonishing” the Liberal government would allow the London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC) program to close, given its low cost and how many patients it helps each year.
But questioned in the legislature Tuesday, Eric Hoskins dodged critical issues and made claims certain to rile the nearly 2,000 London patients who have relied on the Cardiac Fitness Institute.
“I know, as a fellow health-care professional, (we) need to allow our front-line health-care providers, our physicians, the entire complement, to make the best decisions based on evidence and quality of care,” Hoskins said during question period at Queen’s Park.
His claim seems odd since the doctor who has headed the fitness institute since 1981, Larry Patrick, has led the fight against its closing.
Patrick has said London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC) brass want to convert the facility, housed in a former church, to a meeting space.
While Hoskins said he’s relying on the best evidence to limit cardiac fitness to six months at a program offered at St. Joseph’s Health Care in London, the only study to examine longer-term rehabilitation found that patient risk of dying was reduced greatly when their rehab lasts more than three years.
The study, published in June in the peer-reviewed journal of the British Cardiovascular Society, found that those in cardio rehab for more than three years were 60 per cent more likely to be alive 14 years later than those whose rehab ended after one year.
Yurek asked about the study in the legislature, but the health minister didn’t address it, instead saying he was relying on the judgment of the Cardiac Care Network.
But that network, now part of an agency called Corhealth Ontario, has never claimed six months of rehab is ideal — standards it developed in 2014 make no reference at all to how long rehab should be.
Ontario now only funds six months of cardiac rehab across the province, including at St. Joe’s. By comparison, the Cardiac Fitness Institute at LHSC doesn’t limit how long patients stay in the program, which includes supervised exercise, stress tests and counseling.
Officials at LHSC plan to phase out the cardiac program starting next month over the objections of patients and its lead, who point out the program typically has cost the hospital not more than $300,000 from a hospital budget of about $1.2 billion.
LHSC officials have defended the closing by claiming the best and most recent medical evidence supports a six-month program.
The hospital maintains the program doesn’t fall under the mandate of an acute care hospital such as LHSC, and that it recevies no funding to support such services and can no longer subsidize the program.
The planned closing next month has upset many heart patients in Southwestern Ontario, dozens of whom called and emailed The Free Press in the fallout of the decision, praising the work done at the cardiac program and imploring it be saved.