Layton unveils $1B plan to cut doctor shortage

Joanna Smith

HALIFAX–New Democrat Leader Jack Layton made a billion-dollar promise to reduce the shortage of family doctors in Canada yesterday.

“Having regular access to a family doctor is really the basic business of community health care,” Layton said in the medical building of Dalhousie University. “If you don’t have that, you don’t have health care. You have sickness care.”

According to the Canadian Medical Association, between 4 million and 5 million Canadians do not have a family physician.

Layton promised to spend $200 million annually for five years to create training spaces for 1,200 more doctors and 6,000 more nurses, increasing the number of training spaces for both professions by half.

Layton also said he would forgive graduating medical students their debts if they committed to spending the first 10 years of their practice in family medicine, which would cost an additional $125 million per year.

“We’re very pleased to see this issue is getting some attention in this election campaign,” said CMA president Dr. Robert Ouellet. The average medical student owes $160,000 at graduation, he said.

Layton also promised to work with provinces and territories to improve the foreign credentials system to make it easier for foreign-trained doctors to work in Canada.

At a Liberal caucus retreat in Goderich, Ont., Ontario Health Minister David Caplan said he had not yet heard the announcement yesterday morning but said it would be “really helpful” if all federal party leaders agreed to immediately fix an inequity that sees the province receive $733 million less in federal health transfers than other provinces, based on population.

“We would be able to do a great deal more, whether that is care for seniors (or) supports for … both doctors and nurses,” said Caplan, whose government has boosted medical school enrolment by 23 per cent.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper directly attacked the NDP plan as unrealistic and unaffordable when asked about it in Ottawa.

“NDP promises always sound good but the economy has to be able to afford them,” Harper said.

With files from Rob Ferguson

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