The Progressive Conservatives say that Ontario is wasting millions of dollars each year sending young patients with mental illnesses south of the border for treatment, rather than expanding the capacity to treat those same people closer to home.
Christine Elliott, the deputy PC leader, told reporters Tuesday that many young Ontarians are facing unacceptable wait times for treatment of mental health issues as a result of the lack of capacity for treatment in the province.
In some cases, the wait times can be as long as two years and the patients and their families are suffering as a result, she said.
"Imagine telling a parent of a suicidal 10-year-old that they're going to have to wait two years for treatment," Elliott said during a news conference in Toronto.
"It's really unconscionable, and we need to do better for those individuals and families."
Elliott said the provincial health ministry provides up to $80,000 in funding for youth to seek help for mental health in the United States.
"What we're doing right now here in Ontario is we're spending millions and millions of dollars sending children and youth out of country — primarily the United States — for treatment," she said.
"We believe that we could provide those services closer to home, and at a far lesser cost."
The Tories say there are too many government ministries and other groups involved in delivering mental-health treatment to youth. It's a situation they say the governing Liberals need to improve by co-ordinating the services being delivered.
But Health Minister Deb Matthews told The Canadian Press on Tuesday that the health ministry is already doing "everything" the Tories are calling for, including building treatment capacity and reducing the number of patients being treated for mental illnesses in the U.S.
"Everything Tim Hudak is advocating we are already doing, such as getting various organizations working better together," said Matthews.
"We're spending half what we used to on out of country care because we've built capacity here."
The ministry also said it will spend $6.8 million this year to treat several hundred Ontario children and teens with eating disorders. Matthews said that the government has established a new treatment centre in London, Ont.
"It's starting to care for people here rather than send them to Arizona or Boston or some of the other centres, and it's less expensive," she said.
Mental, physical health equally important: Hudak
Furthermore, Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak said Tuesday that mental and physical health problems should be treated with equal importance for Ontarians of all ages.
"We need to make sure mental health assessments are part of our system," Hudak said, when speaking alongside Elliott at the news conference in Toronto.
"When a frail senior is treated for complex continuing care, you need at the same time to have a mental health diagnosis, for example, tests for dementia, depression."
The PC leader said his party will release its latest "white paper" later this week, which will provide ideas for reinventing the provincial health-care system.
The party has been releasing a number of discussion papers, which could inform its policy in the next election.