‘It’s a crisis’: head of medical union warns health care system faces ‘collapse’ IG News

IG news Update,

The new president of the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) said Wednesday he fears the country’s fragile health care system will worsen without an injection of cash – and plans to increase the number of doctors and other health care professionals.

An anesthesiologist in Grande Prairie, Alta., and the group’s first Indigenous president, Dr. Alika LaFontaine told CBC News that Canada’s health care is in a “serious” crisis, with quality care severely limited in some parts of the country.

He pointed to recent emergency room closures in Ottawa, southwestern Ontario, Quebec and other places, and ER wait times in major cities such as Toronto and Montreal as dire precedents, all with timely access to care. It has been undermining Canada’s long-standing promise.

“We’ve been saying for some time that we’re concerned about collapse. And in some places, the collapse has already happened,” LaFontaine said.

A man wearing a suit and patterned tie stands smiling in front of a building.
Dr. Alika LaFontaine, the new president of the Canadian Medical Association (CMA), was born and raised in the Treaty 4 region in Saskatchewan. (Submitted by the Canadian Medical Association)

“All these things are not normal things for Canadians to experience so we are at a critical point right now. If you can’t access services, it literally collapses.”

He said the doctors on the frontline are at breaking point and are doing a better job for over two and a half years.

“We’re all trained to deal with acuity. We’re all trained to deal with serious situations. But what’s happening now is more than anything we’ve experienced before,” Lafontaine said.

LaFontaine’s remarks came after the CMA issued a new report on Thursday warning that all provincial and regional systems are grappling with similar problems – staffing in particular.

The problem is essentially one of human resources, he said, and not having enough doctors and nurses available to staff a growing population.

One of LaFontaine’s proposed solutions is what it calls a “pan-national licensor,” which would allow physicians to operate nationwide with less regulatory burden.

This type of portability will give doctors more flexibility to practice where they are most needed. This may make it easier for doctors trained abroad to move around the country.

He said the current system – in which each province has its own licensing system – is a hindrance.

A nationwide ‘human resource plan’ for health care

He said a national physician license could provide a single, streamlined process to verify the credentials of internationally trained doctors.

“We need to rethink the idea that we can move forward with 13 different health systems that don’t really cooperate with each other on a deeper level,” he said.

He said the federal government should convene a meeting with provincial and regional governments to develop some sort of “health human resource plan” to address staff shortages and other pressing issues.

In addition to playing some sort of coordinating role, LaFontaine said, Ottawa should put more money into the system.

“We certainly need more resources in the system to move forward. But what’s important is where those resources go,” he said, noting in the past to set aside money for mental health or homecare, especially for the elderly. Federal efforts have been successful.

Federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos has suggested more money will flow into the provincial treasury in the coming months – but he has said it will not be a blank cheque.

Duclos has already set out the top five priorities for Ottawa’s new health care spending: an end to the service backlog, increased numbers of health care workers, better access to primary care, long-term care and an improved system of home care for seniors. For, more resources for mental health and substance abuse, and a new push to digitize health data and facilitate more virtual care.

Recently, the cumbersome problem of licensing for doctors trained outside the country has come to the fore in many provinces.

Last month, Ontario Health Minister Sylvia Jones directed the province’s regulatory colleges to develop a plan to more quickly register internationally educated doctors and nurses.

Other provinces, including Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador, are working to streamline their procedures as they welcome Ukrainian doctors fleeing the war to their country.


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