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Opinion editorial
May 17, 2021

Good things happen when governments follow doctors’ advice: OMA

By Allan O’Dette

Steini Brown, the public health expert who co-chairs Ontario’s Science Advisory Table, told the public that the pandemic’s third and most deadly wave appeared to be cresting, and that the numbers carried hope, when discussing the advisory table’s most recent COVID-19 modelling.

“The third wave isn’t cresting on its own,” he said at a news conference. “You’re making it happen. It’s happening because of our daily choices together.”

He’s right, of course; public adherence to public health guidelines during a crisis is essential to ending it.

But there is more to the story.

A pandemic can’t be managed without public discipline, nor can it be managed without doctors.

As CEO of the Ontario Medical Association, which represents the province’s 43,000 doctors, I am taking this opportunity to remind everyone that good things happen for people and patients when governments listen to doctors.

From the start of the pandemic, the OMA has been recommending public health policy measures that have formed the building blocks of a solid pandemic strategy founded on science and the sound medical advice of the doctors we represent.

In the early weeks of 2020, perhaps previously publicly unknown physicians began appearing in Canadian homes every day through television news.

Wash your hands. Keep your distance. Wear a mask.

As the pandemic’s first wave took off, the OMA’s website became a source of trusted information, setting the record straight when rumours and COVID myth spreaders threatened to take over the facts.

Recognizing that community-based physicians were pushed out of the market for personal protective equipment (PPE) by dwindling supply and skyrocketing prices, the OMA developed an inventory tool and co-ordinated PPE drives to ensure these essential supplies reached doctors who could continue to help the people they serve.

Even before the virus disproportionately ravaged seniors’ homes, the OMA was out with a series of recommendations: vaccinate all long-term care residents, their caregivers and staff; cut the red tape that prevents physicians from moving quickly into these homes; use virtual care and appoint chief medical officers for long-term care for each Ontario Health region.

The OMA called for lockdowns, warned of looming drug shortages and recommended ways to combat them. We warned of the pandemic’s toll on mental health, highlighted the risks to children, and urged the public not to avoid their doctor. We said vaccinate high-risk populations first and then target hot spots. We called for paid sick days so that no one should have to choose between isolating and earning a wage.

Sure and steady, doctors provided expert advice every day through their own channels and the media, and every other week through virtual news conferences organized by the OMA.

This activist agenda has carried on from the first wave, to the second and is still evident today, well into the third.

Doctors have moved the dial on public health crises before. The OMA played an influential role in advancing anti-smoking policies when deaths from cigarettes raged out of control. The association advocated for safe drinking water after seven people died from drinking tainted water in Walkerton. We can take credit for helping move Ontario out of coal-fired electricity following warnings about the danger to health of air pollutants.

The public trusts doctors.

A recent Ipsos Reid survey of Ontarians found public trust in doctors remains highest among all major health-care providers and government. The majority – 52 per cent – of those who took part in the online survey selected doctors as those they trusted most to make decisions on the future of health, compared to 11 per cent who said they trusted the Ontario government.

Doctors have presided over the birth of your children and have made sure their shots were up to date. They have treated your high blood pressure and helped manage your diabetes. They have delivered good news and bad. They have been your confidants and your first point of contact with the health-care system. They have cared for patients in their offices, at the hospital, in the nursing home and at their clinics.

The public feels assured when governments listen to doctors’ advice. They want government to listen to and collaborate with doctors.

Doctors on the frontlines and those guiding behind the scenes have the expertise necessary for the complex decision-making required to help navigate our way out of the COVID crisis.

While doctors have always played an important role in the development of health policy in Ontario, the pandemic has underscored the importance of doctors, their expertise and of medical science. Well-being and economic recovery starts with government listening to doctors.

The events of the first, second and third waves have demonstrated the good that comes for people when governments listen to doctors.

So here’s to emergency room doctors, and those in ICUs, to the infectious disease specialists, and GPs, the public health doctors, and to all those who feed into our province’s pandemic advisory tables. And here’s to the public, and governments that have listened and heeded their advice.

Used with permission from Healthy Debate, Copyright Healthy Debate. All rights reserved.