One in four Ontario family doctors is over 60 years of age — making the doctor shortage even more urgent than it looks at the moment. Our municipality can help fix it.
The Citizen invited candidates in the Oct. 24 municipal election to share their thoughts:
If you, like me, spent the last several weeks worried about being able to access emergency services due to the severe shortages in our health-care system, please read on. The last four months of 2022 will be remembered as the time when emergency rooms closed across Ontario, nurses quit the profession in large numbers and paramedics waited up to six hours to offload patients. Over 1.5 million Ontarians do not have a family physician, adding additional stress to emergency services.
You may think this is not a municipal issue, but the City of Ottawa can play an important and proactive role in fixing the crisis — as the cities of Kingston, Niagara and Hamilton have done.
One of the most critical gaps that needs to be addressed is the shortage of family doctors. Having one improves health outcomes, reduces wait times and mortality, decreases hospitalizations, and reduces health-care costs.
Examples of desperation include one couple in B.C. that took out an ad in the newspaper looking for a doctor to refill prescriptions for an ongoing chronic condition. There have been news reports of patients driving several hours to see a family doctor they had many years ago in a city in which they no longer live. All of these patchwork “solutions” do nothing to relieve the ongoing stress on nurses, the backlog of hospital surgeries, or the ongoing issues in long-term care.
Policies proposed to address the crisis include reforming the billing model so physicians can spend more time treating patients; opening more spots in medical schools; and integrating internationally trained physicians. All will take years to implement and despite the obvious need for family physicians, the province does not consider Ottawa under-serviced. Therefore, we need more efforts from our municipal government.
The City of Ottawa needs to have a family doctor recruitment and retention plan. Many Ontario municipalities have gone ahead, often with unanimous support from their councils, and there are templates and toolkits already in place as to how this can be set up.
A potential City of Ottawa Physician Shortage Committee could survey current family doctors in the national capital region to see what they like and what they don’t like about working here. It could ask what support they need to better do their job and what drew them to Ottawa as a new graduate. It could look at other successful family doctor recruitment programs in other municipalities and see what we could offer.
Family doctors have 10 years of post-secondary training before they start practising medicine. Ottawa already has a robust family medicine stream through the University of Ottawa’s medical school. We need to encourage these graduates to stay in Ottawa not only to service families and residents, but especially for our most vulnerable. Ottawa has a lot to offer, but we are not getting the word out about its benefits to our most in-demand profession. The municipality must step in to recruit doctors before the problem gets worse.
Stéphanie Plante is a candidate for Ottawa city council in Rideau-Vanier.
How and where to vote in the 2022 Ottawa municipal election
Here are the candidates for the 2022 Ottawa municipal election