Doctor shortage a global challenge: Clement

Colin McKim

EarthThe shortage of doctors is a planetary problem, says Canada’s Minister of Health.

“In the world we are short five million medical professionals,” said Tony Clement during a short stop in Orillia on Friday afternoon.

He said Canada’s struggles are echoed in Britain, the U.S., Australia and elsewhere: “We’re all facing the same challenge.”

Ottawa helps the provinces with doctor recruitment and retention through a $175-million fund, said Clement.

“You don’t see the direct hand of the federal government, but we actually fit in with the provincial strategies.”

Ultimately, however, attracting physicians will be largely a matter of investing in information technology (IT) and other advanced equipment, said Clement.

“They’re not going to come to a (hospital) like Soldiers’ Memorial here if you don’t have state-of-the-art equipment, the PAC (picture archiving and communications) system for electronic images. If you don’t have that, no doctor wants to work here.”

The federal government helps fund 70 per cent of the cost of IT equipment for health records, said Clement.

On another health-care topic, the minister said it is unfortunate many doctors educated at Canadian medical schools head to the United States to practise.

But the government is powerless to stop this brain drain, he said.

“We have this thing called the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which has mobility rights. You can only (keep physicians in Canada) with a carrot, not a stick. We don’t have the legal means to do it.”

Allowing procedures that don’t strictly require a trained physician to be provided by other practitioners is one solution, said Clement. “It’s important that other medical professionals who can, pick up the slack.”

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