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LETTER: Improving health care will require realistic look at problems

'Instead of fighting each other, let’s look to the province​ and ask for bold action focusing on rejuvenating our public system,' says reader
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Group Health Centre. File photo, Darren Taylor/SooToday

SooToday received the following letter to the editor regarding the recent announcement that the Group Health Centre would be dropping another 10,000 patients from its roster

It’s good that m​any eyes are now focused on the family doctor shortage, but it’s much too late. Given the trend, within a few years, half the population of the Sault could have no family doctor. This will put a massive added burden on walk-in clinics and the hospital ER. To fix this, we must be realists and stop the magical thinking, starting with the idea that the federal government or city council are at fault when healthcare is primarily a provincial responsibility. If you are trying to hold the wrong people accountable, you are not dealing with reality, and the problem will not get fixed.

Another key reality is when you have a severe shortage, you must pay more. That’s basic economics. In 2022, British Columbia changed how they paid family doctors, and they are reporting that the hemorrhaging of family doctors is starting to ease. Ontario must do this as well.

Many family physicians are also frustrated with paperwork including completing forms. Fixing this is not rocket science. Find ways to reduce or get rid of paperwork, ​make sure family doctors are paid for time they spend on paperwork, and fund clerical staff to help with paperwork so doctors can spend more time with patients.

An example: The Wynne government banned employers from requiring staff to get a sick note for a short-term illness. The Ford Government reinstated this, so primary care providers must waste precious time writing notes saying, “Yes, this patient has a cough and runny nose.” A poor use of resources! Sick people should be home recovering, not bringing their germs into doctors’ offices, walk-in clinics, and the ER.

Also, many patients with no family doctor have to go to a walk-in clinic or the ER once a month to get prescriptions renewed. What a waste of time the clinic/ER could be spending on hands-on​ care. This needs to change, but again, only the province can do it.

As for recruiting more family doctors to the Sault…again, we need to get real. We are competing for family doctors with every other city in our country, including many with way more amenities than us. A recent Sootoday article mentioned recruiting nurse-practitioners, but I bet they are also a hot commodity because of the doctor shortage. And as far as internationally trained doctors go, getting them licensed is a complex problem. Making it easier for them is a good idea, but I feel like we will get more bang for our buck focusing on making family medicine more attractive to our home-grown doctors.

Another thing we need to face reality on is while it’s tragic that 10,000 Group Health Centre patients are about to lose their family doctor, in the last week I have chatted with other locals who have been without a family doctor for many years, one person more than 20 years! There’s something wrong with a system where some people have gone two decades doctor-less while others seem to get a new doctor relatively quickly. Who’s most deserving to skip to the head of the queue? The person who’s been doctor-less longest​, the person who’s been at a given practice the longest​, ​o​r the one with the worst health problems? This ​all very Hunger Games​-ish. ​“May the odds be ever in your favour.” We are now fighting amongst ourselves about who is most worthy because a series of provincial governments have made bad decisions.

Finally, I see people calling for privatized healthcare, but this is also magical thinking. No country has ever attempted to add a privatized healthcare system at a time with huge shortages of doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers. Because of this shortage, a private system will hasten the demise of public healthcare as private facilities that can pay better thanks to rich owners poach doctors and staff. Since Alberta began pushing privatized surgeries, it's been reported there are overall fewer surgeries are being done and wait lists are longer.

In conclusion, instead of fighting each other, let’s look to the province​, and ask for bold action focusing on rejuvenating our public system NOW.

Abigail Obenchain

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