BY CRAIG GILBERT
The president of the Ontario Medical Association was in Sudbury Thursday as part of a campaign calling for less talk and more action on the province?s doctor shortage ?crisis.?
Dr. Larry Erlick wants to let people across Ontario realize physicians, too, are becoming frustrated with the health care system in the province.
?It?s time to stop the talking and solve the problem,? he said before his speech to the Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce. ?We need a short-term quick fix because we are beyond where health care should be a priority.
?We are in crisis?
The Northern Ontario Medical School (NOMS), scheduled to open in the fall of 2005 at Laurentian University in Sudbury and Lakehead University
in Thunder Bay, will be a bright light for Ontario?s health care system in the long-term, said Erlick.
However, its future graduates can do nothing for the problem facing the province right now, he said.
Ontario?s Gross Domestic Product is second only to Alberta?s, but we rank seventh with regard to fee scheduling for doctors and dead last in family physician to population ratio, he said.
In fact, where Ontario historically has attracted about 100 doctors annually, the province had a net loss of two last year.
?It indicates Ontario-trained physicians are looking at other provinces as more attractive,? Erlick said.
Lower fees, higher workload and a lack of infrastructure (which means operating room (OR) time to surgeons) are driving doctors out, he insists.
As part of a province-wide public awareness campaign, a recent survey of 2,000 doctors conducted by the Strategic Counsel was released by the OMA.
It indicates 97 per cent of physicians are concerned about the impact of doctor shortages on their patients, 95 per cent are concerned about the general under-funding of the health care system and 90 per cent feel delays in treatment caused by long waiting lists are having a negative impact on patient care.
The OMA has developed an 18-point plan to resolve the physician shortage crisis in Ontario.
It is available at www.oma.org/solutions, and here are some highlights:
- Fast-track the approval process for international medical graduates;
- Eliminate mandatory retirement for physicians at age 65;
- Reduce paperwork, freeing up more time for patient-doctor contact, and;
- Repatriate Ontario-trained doctors practising elsewhere by removing ?existing disincentives.?
Erlick said those disincentives include requiring Ontario-trained doctors who have left to practise in another jurisdiction to sign a five-year service return agreement with the government.
That contract stipulates the doctor will practice where the government dictates, and comes complete with penalties and punishments for non-compliance.
Erlick said the government should get back into the tuition regulation business for medical schools, as well.
?Medical students are graduating with a $150,000 debt load ? that?s unacceptable.?
He said there is optimism at the OMA with the newly elected Liberal government in power.
The point of the public awareness campaign, which includes broadcast and print advertisements, is to get ?people to start working with us ? it?s an economic issue, as well.?
Erlick said the OMA also wants to work with cities to find specific solutions to their local problems.
Erlick said he has visited Peterborough and London where potential businesses have been lost because the province wasn?t perceived to be capable of providing adequate health care for their employees.
?We have to be competitive in this country.?