Doctor shortage critical: OMA

Andrea Houston

The provincewide doctor shortage is one of the largest obstacles facing health care in Ontario with doctors and patients being pushed to the brink with stress, said the president of the Ontario Medical Association.

Dr. Janice Willett, an obstetrician from Sault Ste Marie, was at the Holiday Inn on George Street yesterday to hear from local physicians as part of a year-long provincial tour.

After each stop on the tour, Willett said, she has been reporting back to the OMA identifying issues and informing the provincial ministry. 

In the past four years, 500,000 “orphan patients” were matched up with a family doctor in Ontario, she said.

“But in that time, Ontario grew by a number that puts us back almost at a million people without a family doctor,” Willett said. “But it would have been a 1.4 million, so we should be happy we made progress.”

When looking at other provinces, she said, Ontario currently ranks way down the list in seventh place.

“That’s not a very good place to be,” Willett said. “That’s not good. We could be in a better spot.”

In Peterborough, the number of orphan patients has been estimated in the past as hovering in the 10,000 to 20,000 range.

“It’s fairly similar in comparison to cities your size,” Willett said. “But you are in a growth period, so you have to look at what that will mean in five years, particularly with an aging demographic.

“Also, you have to look at your physicians and how close they are to the 55 and above age range.”

While she applauded Peterborough on building the new hospital, retaining doctors who reach age 65 is still a major challenge, especially as the need for more doctors continues to increase provincewide, she said.

For the past year, Willett has been touring the province meeting with physicians to hear their concerns and what changes can be made to improve the system, she said.

“It’s important to hear what the grassroots says so we can represent what they need, not what we think they need,” Willett said. “The number one thing I have heard from doctors are issues surrounding access to services for their patients.”

Capitalizing on the family health team model of integrated services is one way to increase health care access and relieve stress on physicians, she said.

“The downloading onto municipalities has been pretty unfortunate, but I think it’s unrealistic to think it’s going to stop until you decrease the (doctor) shortages significantly,” Willett said.

According to the OMA, 85 per cent of physicians in the province feel they are overworked. The average physician in Ontario works 50 hours a week.

Just this year, she said, the OMA has initiated a regional outreach program to de-centralize the organization and bring the OMA to the physicians.

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