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LETTER: Ontario must do more to fix doctor shortage 'crisis'

Exhausted, overburdened doctors are 'persevering in order to serve their patients in an atmosphere that is often unappreciative and sometimes downright hostile'
Dozens took part in a health care protest outside the Ronald A. Irwin Civic Centre prior to the meeting of city council on May 13, 2024.

SooToday received the following letter from the Algoma Health Coalition in response to this article: 'Shoemaker wonders why health minister responds to SooToday but not to him'

There is a severe physician human resources crisis in Ontario: We are all aware of the closures and crowding of hospital emergency departments, the backlog of diagnostic imaging, long wait lists to see a specialist, and the unprecedented number of patients without a family physician. The shortage of primary care is province wide, but most acutely felt in the north and in rural areas. In the 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 about the coming crisis for years. Governments haven’t listened and continue to make policies that inhibit our timely access to health care. Solutions have been offered by the Ontario College of Family Physicians, health care advocates and people who work in health care and know and understand the challenges.

VIDEO: How to solve the doctor shortage plaguing northern Ontario

Family physicians need to be able to take on more patients and to see them faster. Additional primary care team members are required to facilitate supporting patient needs. Steps must be taken to improve the efficiency of administrative and clinical work. Fast tracking foreign trained doctors and increasing family medicine residency spots would ensure greater access to family doctors. Recognizing the dire situation in the north, the Ontario College of Family Physicians would like the government to focus on improving chronic physician shortages in those areas.

The Ministry of Health recently stated that the recruitment and retention of doctors in Ontario is “not a major concern.” Many personal testimonials and media accounts refute this. Ontario has one of the lowest numbers of doctors per capita. Over two million Ontarians are struggling without a doctor. Our family doctors, and other health care providers are facing burnout. Family medicine is the gateway to all health care and so the need for family doctors is urgent.

At this time of severe physician shortage, the added expectations, responsibilities and growing workload are debilitating for many doctors. Because financial compensation has fallen behind 2012 levels, many doctors are finding that operating a family practice is no longer financially worthwhile. Family doctors are leaving the profession and graduating medical students, saddled with huge debt, cannot afford to specialize in family medicine. They know that, while family medicine can be very rewarding, its demands are overwhelming.

The Algoma Health Coalition recognizes and thanks doctors for their dedication and commitment. They are persevering in order to serve 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 care, people who want to help make lives better. After years of arduous learning and accumulated debt, new doctors vow to serve their patients and avoid doing them harm. We are grateful to those who are still practicing today while facing huge system-wide challenges.

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

We encourage all municipal governments and concerned citizens to demand that the Ontario government address the extreme physician shortage and reduce the pressures that our doctors and other primary care providers are presently facing in our underfunded Ontario public health-care system.

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

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