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LETTER: Ontario must do more to address doctor shortage ‘crisis’

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Exhausted and overworked doctors “persevere to care for their patients in an atmosphere that is often disrespectful and sometimes downright hostile”

SooToday received the following letter from the Algoma Health Coalition in response to this article: “Shoemaker wonders why the Minister of Health is SooToday but not for him'

Ontario is experiencing a severe medical staffing crisis: we all know that hospital emergency rooms are closed and overcrowded, that there are backlogs in diagnostic imaging, that waiting lists for specialists are long, and that there are unprecedented numbers of patients without a primary care physician. The shortage of primary care is felt across the country, but is most acute in the north and rural areas. In Algoma District, we are painfully aware of this sad reality.

The Algoma Health Coalition recognizes that this situation did not develop overnight. Doctors have been warning us of the coming crisis for years. Governments have not listened and continue to enact policies that hinder our timely access to health care. Solutions have been offered by the Ontario College of Family Physicians, health advocates and people who work in health care and know and understand the challenges.

VIDEO: How to solve the doctor shortage in Northern Ontario

Family physicians need to be able to see more patients and treat them more quickly. To better support patients, additional members of the primary care team are needed. Steps must be taken to improve the efficiency of administrative and clinical work. Faster accreditation of foreign-trained physicians and increasing the number of general practitioner residency positions would ensure better access to family physicians. Given the dire situation in the north, the Ontario College of Family Physicians wants the government to focus on improving the chronic shortage of physicians in these areas.

The Ministry of Health recently stated that physician recruitment and retention in Ontario is “not a major problem.” Numerous personal and media reports contradict this statement. Ontario has one of the lowest numbers of physicians per capita. Over two million Ontarians struggle without a doctor. Our family physicians and other health care providers are facing burnout. Family medicine is the gateway to all health care, and so there is an urgent need for family physicians.

In this time of acute physician shortages, the additional expectations, responsibilities, and growing workload are a burden for many physicians. With compensation falling below 2012 levels, many physicians are finding that operating a primary care practice is no longer financially viable. Primary care physicians are leaving the profession, and medical students, burdened with large amounts of debt, cannot afford to specialize in primary care medicine. They know that while primary care practice can be very rewarding, it also has overwhelming demands.

The Algoma Health Coalition recognizes and thanks the dedication and commitment of physicians who persevere to care for their patients in an atmosphere that is often unappreciative and sometimes downright hostile. Health care is a profession of service to others. It attracts people who are committed, people who want to help make lives better. After years of arduous learning and accumulating debt, new physicians vow to serve their patients, not harm them. We are grateful to those who are still practicing today despite facing enormous system-wide challenges.

Sault Ste. Marie City Council recently passed a resolution calling on the Ontario government to recognize the physician shortage in Sault Ste. Marie and to adequately fund health care to ensure that every Ontarian has access to medical care. The Algoma Health Coalition strongly supports this resolution.

We encourage all local governments and concerned citizens to demand that the Ontario government address the extreme physician shortage and relieve the pressures currently facing our physicians and other primary health care providers in our underfunded Ontario public health system.

Marie DellaVedova, for the Algoma Health Coalition
Sault Ste. Marie