TORONTO - Health Minister Deb Matthews is expanding a government program that gives Ontario emergency rooms extra cash to cut their wait times.

The province is spending $100 million this year to help 71 high-volume ERs reduce the amount of time patients wait to be treated and discharged, she said.

"I'm so encouraged by the results participating hospitals have achieved since we launched the Pay For Results program in 2008," Matthews said in a release.

"I'm excited to expand this program so we can keep building on this success."

About $60 million will be spent on projects aimed at decreasing wait times, such as adding and reorganizing staff and renovating ERs to improve patient flow. The remaining $40 million is an "incentive" fund to reward hospitals that improve their wait times.

Although 25 additional ERs will tap into the program this year, more than half of the province's 163 emergency departments are still left out.

However, the 71 ERs that will have access to the cash represent about 76 per cent of all ER visits in the province, said Ivan Langrish, a spokesman for Matthews.

Opposition critics said the money would be better spent creating more long-term care beds to free up space in clogged hospitals.

"This is putting the resources in the wrong place," said NDP health critic France Gelinas.

Emergency departments are busy because residents don't have access to family doctors and many frail, elderly people aren't getting what they need from home care, she said.

"They get into trouble, they end up in emergency ... and then the ball starts rolling again."

The government must make a real investment in nursing homes if they want to ease the congestion in hospitals, said Progressive Conservative Lisa MacLeod.

"The minister came out and said, basically, wait times under 10 hours is a success, and I have real problems with that," she added.

"I think any Ontarian who's been at an ER as I have, or any other parent, knows that we need to do more."

Some 126 hospitals report their ER wait times to the government, which has set a target of four hours for minor conditions and eight hours for more complex conditions.

Last month, nine out of ten patients waited 11 hours if they had complex conditions and 4.3 hours if they had minor conditions.

Langrish said the governing Liberals have increased funding and opened more than 8,000 new beds since 2003. The government has earmarked $1.1 billion over four years, starting in 2008, to help seniors receive care at home, he added.