Sunday, November 11, 2007

Doctor shortage in Liberal-run Ontario "may turn into a killer"

This is from James Wallace, St. Catharines Standard (Nov.10, 2007):

"Doctor shortage is trending the wrong way; Massive health spending has done little to give more Ontarians a doctor

Disturbing signs this week that Ontario's doctor shortage, a chronic disorder in this province for years, may turn into a killer.
Having been forced for years to cope with an ongoing shortage of family physicians, the president of the Ontario Medical Associations suggests patients should now brace for another "wave" of shortages among specialists.
Not only should patients expect to contend with ongoing waits to see heart, geriatric, cancer and other specialists, but current trends suggest fewer specialists will practice here over the next several years.
"The (government) focus generally has been on primary care because that's the point of first entrance for patients but in fact now the backup system and safety net of secondary care and specialist care is extremely challenged," OMA president Dr. Janice Willett told Osprey News.
"The fact of the matter is the second wave and the shortage of specialists is going to become more and more obvious to the public," Willett said.
From a practical perspective, that means patients increasingly will wait longer to see a cardiovascular surgeon, oncologist, psychiatrist or other in-demand specialist.
It's hardly a stretch to suppose patients will fall through the cracks, grow gravely ill or even die waiting for diagnosis and treatment as that already happens and is a source of growing frustration among clinicians.
As is ever the case with government, money isn't the issue.
The Ontario government over the past five years has increased health-care spending by a staggering $10 billion. Doctors got a $1-billion pay hike during their last round of negotiations with the province, in part to make physician compensation competitive with other jurisdictions, help attract new doctors and retain existing ones.
Hospitals have been offered barrels of cash to reduce waits by pushing more patients through surgeries and procedures.
The government has hired thousands of new nurses, increased medical school spaces, doubled training to allow more foreign doctors to practice here and created new family health teams in order to expand patient access to doctors.
But five years of spending has removed just 200,000 "orphan" patients from the list of Ontarians without a doctor.
More than a million Ontarians, including 130,000 children, still can't find a family doctor.
These patients and their families pay the burdensome taxes required by government in this province, including Dalton McGuinty's health-care tax.
But instead of the universal access to health they are paying for, these orphans often can't get a prescription for a child's ear infection without a trip to the hospital or an overcrowded walk-in clinic.
Try arranging an annual physical if you don't have a doctor, or get an appointment with a specialist if you have a specific or worrying concern.
However, the prospect of significant improvement appears muddy.
New statistics released from the Canadian Institute for Health Information show Ontario's doctor shortage is getting worse.
There were 21,735 family doctors and specialists in the province in 2002 and 22,141 at the end of last year - a positive difference of 406.
However, the doctor population in this province actually fell by 96 physicians in 2006 and the number of doctors leaving Ontario for other provinces has tripled over the past couple of years.
We are trending in the wrong direction.
Ontario's health ministry reasonably responds that their initiatives are just beginning to pay off, arguing for example that 337 medical students will graduate this year.
The problem, however, as Willett explains it, are the "holes in the bucket" the province is trying to fill.
Not only are there leaks, many new grads will leave the province for instance, but the bucket itself is getting bigger.
Ontario's population is also growing faster than the growth rate for new doctors and getting older, meaning more people increasingly need more medical care.
At the same time, doctors are getting older and some 2,500 family practitioners and specialists - about 10 per cent of the total - are 55 or older.
The problem isn't that government is failing to act, rather that it may have, in the estimation of the OMA, underestimated the scope of the problem.
It's been bad enough that so many don't get what they pay for, now the health of too many, needlessly, may be endangered.
"The risk for us all is that the safety net that's been tenuously held together by health-care professionals breaks," Willett said. "It does break already on a daily basis but it will really break in a major way if nothing done." “
Here’s yet another story about Ontario's doctor shortage. Has our local MPP Jim Bradley, the champion of state-run Ontario healthcare, read this story, or the others? You know, new Transportation Minister Jim Bradley, the St. Catharines MPP who in a Jan.5, 1991 Toronto Globe and Mail story by Michael Valpy was quoted saying he hates doctors? Un-flicking-real.

We just went through a provincial election a month ago, on Oct.10, 2007, where hardly a peep came from the Liberals about healthcare. This doctor shortage, along with our deteriorating health monopoly, didn't just happen last week. McGuinty’s Liberals have known about the plight of our single-payer health system for years…haven't they??

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