Wednesday, August 5, 2015 - As municipal leaders from across Ontario gather for the annual Association of Municipalities of Ontario conference, a number of issues are sure to top the agenda and health care might not be one of them.
It should be.
Convenient access to medical services is a key component of making any town or city a great place to live. Unfortunately, the provincial government has imposed measures in recent months that are affecting access to care across Ontario.
At a time when there are more than 800,000 Ontarians without a family doctor and 140,000 new residents are being added into our health care system every year, the government is cutting the number of spaces for new doctors from 40 to 20 - restricting the ability of family doctors to join group-based models of practice – the model in which new doctors are currently trained.
Doctors may only fill these spaces in groups in communities the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care have identified on a list as “areas of high physician need.” There are more than 200 of these designated communities across the province on the list out of 444 municipalities in Ontario. The result is that places like Niagara-on-the-Lake, Belleville, Kirkland Lake and parts of Toronto are all vying for those 20 much-needed family doctors each month.
This is an example of further restrictions on doctors from a government that doesn’t understand what it means to put patients first. The result means it will be more difficult to attract doctors to communities across the province. And the reality is there is a need for family doctors in communities across the province – whether they are on the list or not – when there are 800,000 people without a doctor.
Another change the government imposed was an arbitrary limit on the amount of medical services it will pay for annually. After the limit the government has set has been reached, doctors will either have to work for free, stop working, or the government will want to be reimbursed through clawbacks or some other mechanism.
Doctors see the patients who come to their offices – we don’t solicit them on the street. We provide care based on our patients' health and well-being. We aren’t going to say no to delivering care, but shouldn’t it be the government’s responsibility to pay for it? Isn’t that why we have medicare?
Imagine running your municipality or business that way – telling staff in a department they provided too much good service to the community and now they have to give back some of their pay.
You would never do that so why is it OK for the government to treat doctors this way?
As government imposes these terms, doctors will do everything we can to limit the impacts these cuts have on patients. But make no mistake: there will be negative impacts on patients.
We are asking municipal leaders and patients from across Ontario to let their MPP know this is not OK.
Tell the government to stop putting its budget before your care.
Dr. Mike Toth
Ontario Medical Association