Jagmeet Singh visits Thunder Bay to talk health care and introduce new local NDP candidate

Health, dental and pharmacare were some of the key issues on the table when Federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh and local NDP candidate for Thunder Bay—Rainy River  Yuk-Sem Won spoke to reporters in Thunder Bay Tuesday.  

Singh said pharmacare is an important preventative service that can reduce the amount of patients sent to hospitals with acute issues. For northern Ontarians who may live far from hospital services, Singh said access to prescription drugs is even more important. 

“Making sure that the medication is accessible in northern and remote areas will help ensure that people can stay safe, stay healthier, and prevent them from having to go through the extremes of getting on a plane to go hundreds of kilometres away, in some case thousands of kilometres away, to get the care they need,” said Singh.

Thousands of First Nations patients in Northwestern Ontario are forced to take these kind of journeys to the closest hospital. Many reserves only have nursing stations, which means patients have to take flights or ice road journeys hundreds of kilometres and stay overnight to access care. 

When asked how to make care more accessible and affordable to northern Ontario First Nations, Singh said consultation with the communities themselves is key.

“A lot of it is providing the adequate funding, making sure we follow through on commitments already made in treaties,” he said. “I think often there’s an assumption that Ottawa knows best, when moreso Indigenous communities know the best way to just respond to those challenges.” 

Even larger northern cities like Thunder Bay sometimes don’t have medically necessary services patients need accessible locally. Thousands of people have to travel long distances in order to get specialist and diagnostic care every year, according to provincial data.

Patients in northern Ontario who have to be referred to specialists far from home can get reimbursed for some travel costs through Ontario’s Northern Health Travel Grant Program. The province said about 66,000 northern Ontario residents made use of the grant program in 2022 to 2023.

Singh said the current provincial and federal governments should be investing more in health care so northern Ontarians have more specialists and family doctors. He also said that preventing burnout could help retain more of the frontline healthcare workers we do have.

“The worker shortage is putting more pressure on the workers that are there and that’s increasing burnout,” said Singh. “They need to have good compensation for the work that they’re doing and they need to have enough relief so that they’re not being burnt out, and we can do these things there.”

If elected, Singh said the NDP would enact processes to recognize foreign credentials to allow healthcare workers from abroad to practice in Canada easier. 

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