Premier Doug Ford says his government has made "tremendous progress" on tackling hospital overcrowding, despite evidence this week that Ontario hospitals are routinely putting patients in hallways.
Ford promised during the 2018 election campaign to end hallway medicine in the province.
He was asked about the overcrowding problem Friday, following a CBC News investigation that revealed dozens of hospitals filled to overcapacity on most days.
"I think we've made tremendous progress," Ford said at a news conference at Peel Regional Police headquarters in Mississauga. "We're putting the resources in. We're doing everything we can to clean up hallway healthcare and we are putting a dent in it."
Statistics provided by the Ministry of Health for October through December show the total number of Ontario hospital patients housed in what are termed "unconventional spaces" — including hallways, meeting rooms, and kitchenettes —dropped between five and six per cent from the same months of 2018.
However, that still meant that on an average day in November, 997 patients were not in a proper hospital room.
Figures obtained by CBC News showed that 32 hospitals across Ontario were filled beyond their official capacity for at least 100 days during the first six months of 2019.
Hospital overcrowding has been an issue of particular concern in Peel region, particularly in Brampton. Ford met Friday with Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown, whose city council this week declared a health care emergency over hallway medicine. The declaration called for extra funding to the city's two hospitals and an additional 850 beds.
Asked during the news conference for his response, Ford said, "Yes, we will support a hospital in Brampton," without adding any details.
"That public statement is encouraging and we're going to hold the government's feet to the fire to make sure they honour that commitment," Brown told reporters.
However, Ford's press secretary clarified later that Ford was not making a new commitment, but reiterating the government's support for a project that is already in the planning stages, a 250-bed expansion of the Peel Memorial Centre for Integrated Health and Wellness. Its planning phase began in May 2018, during the final days of the Kathleen Wynne Liberal government.
The Ford government needs to do more to end hallway healthcare, Liberal party leadership candidate Steven Del Duca said Friday. "There are steps the government can take today that will have an immediate impact," Del Duca said in a statement.
He called on the government boost funding to hospitals that are running deficits because of high patient demand, and to start constructing new long-term care beds, to reduce the number of elderly patients waiting in hospital.
The results of the CBC News investigation are "shocking," said NDP leader Andrea Horwath.
"After two years of the Ford government, we've seen hallway medicine go from bad to worse, and people are suffering," Horwath said in a statement.