Friday, November 9, 2007

Ontario Liberals failed to increase number of doctors

This story by James Wallace, St. Catharines Standard, Nov.9, 2007:

"OMA warns of doctor drain. Ontario's doctor shortage is growing and the province will face a "second wave" of physician shortages - among specialists - over the next several years, says the head of the Ontario Medical Association.
New statistics reported by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) show that Ontario not only failed to increase its doctor population last year, it actually lost 96 physicians and for the past two years has seen a growing number of doctors move to other provinces.
This province now has the eighth worst doctor-patient ratio in the country, CIHI found.
"Unless we really come up with some innovative solutions and start reversing this trend pretty quickly, I think we're going to lose health professionals' confidence, Ontario Medical Association president Dr. Janice Willett told Sun Media.
"It's not all doom and gloom but if we keep the status quo, (the system) will be broken," Willett predicted.
Ontario already has a population of more than a million "orphan" patients, including 130,000 children without a doctor.
Willett said those numbers will grow unless the shortage is addressed and patients increasingly will struggle to find family doctors and especially specialists in areas ranging from heart surgery to cancer and pediatric care, particularly in cities like Toronto and Ottawa with large speciality hospitals.
That next wave in Ontario's doctor shortage is just beginning to be felt with growing waits for appointments with specialists.
"I think probably people underestimated how deep this hole is and (how big) the second wave is," Willett said.
"We've had a lot of discussion about people without family doctors," she said. "So we plugged up some holes in the bucket on primary care.
"Now we still need to do more on that but 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."
David Spencer, a spokesman for Health Minister George Smitherman, called the CIHI numbers "helpful" but said provincial estimates show Ontario's doctor supply increased 7.9 per cent since 2002 because of provincial measures to increase medical school spaces, double training for international graduates and create new family health teams.
The government expects doctor numbers to increase significantly over the next few years as those initiatives bear fruit, Spencer said.
"That's not to say we're satisfied with the numbers," he said. "There's still a lot of progress to be made."
However, the numbers are daunting.
Ontario is already short some 2,000 physicians, about half of those specialists.
A growing number of doctors - established ones, new graduates and specialists - are leaving the province for other jurisdictions faster than they can be replaced.
Ontario's population growth is also outpacing physician supply.
The overall number of physicians in Ontario has increased just 1.9 per cent in the past five years while the province's population increased by 4.6 per cent over the same period.
"The trend since 2000 has certainly been concerning," Willett said. "When you look at us in 2000 and 1999 we were net importers (of doctors)."
As a consequence, only Saskatchewan and Prince Edward Island now have a worst doctor-patient ratio than Ontario.
At just 174 doctors per 100,000 people, this province is significantly behind Nova Scotia, which is tops in the country with 219 doctors per 100,000 residents.
But migration isn't the only cause of this province's doctor drain. Physicians are leaving or choosing not to come to Ontario for other reasons including concerns over poor access to medical tests and facilities, medical bureaucracy, competitive pay scales and burnout. Ontario has 2,500 doctors in practice aged 55 and older and as that group begins to retire, it will also exacerbate the province's doctor shortage.
Meanwhile, doctors are increasingly burdened by bureaucracy that takes time away from patients, Willett said.
The government has been working for years on creating new electronic health records, which have been used elsewhere to reduce red tape and improve patient safety, but in the recent election campaign said it will take until 2015 to deliver on the promise.
"That was certainly disappointing for us to hear," Willett said.. "If what they're telling us is we've got the status quo until 2015 then we've got a whole lot of work to figure out how to fix the status quo."
The province also needs to expand its plans for family health teams and ensure doctors fees, currently seventh in the country, are more competitive, she said.
The OMA fears Ontario's current health care system increasingly is creating "two-tier" patients and suggests the government's promise to find doctors for half of the one million patients without physicians may be unrealistic.
"Not if we keep doing things the way we are doing it," Willett said. "It's going to take some real changes."
Doctor shortage! Surprise! Jim Bradley's probable reaction, as an MPP for 30 years : "Doctor shortage...Whaaa? Since when? Liberal promises "may be unrealistic"... huh?? "Failed to increase"...but...oh, I know: Blame Harris!" Of course, we'll never know Bradley's reaction, since there never seem to be stories asking for Bradley's comment to such "news". There is fawning, or there is usually nothing.
..."if we keep the status-quo (the system) will be broken" Willett predicted. Yet no word from status-quo supporter, Jim Bradley. Shame, Jim. How many patients will have to suffer under your restrictive, failing health policies?

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