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The Great Canadian Health Care Lie- It’s Free, So It Must Be “Good”

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Here’s an excerpt from a column of mine from July of 2005, but still on point today. While Londoners have been suffering, our provincial leaders have continued to bury their heads in the sand. It’s a disgrace. and everyone involved should hang their heads in shame.

Ontario is desperately short of doctors, and the situation is going to get much worse before it gets better, if it ever does. Everyone in the medical field knows it, Premier McGuinty knows it, Health Minister George Smitherman knows it, Paul Martin and everyone in the federal government knows it. And after several years of folks like me shouting from the metaphorical rooftops, most Ontarians know it, too. Including the more than 20,000 residents of London who are without a primary care physician.

The premier had no difficulty finding the enthusiasm and rallying the troops to support London’s bid for the Shriners’ Childrens’ Hospital, yet he’s doing precious little to rectify the doctor shortage. I know Mr. McGuinty would disagree with that statement but facts are facts. According to the Ontario Medical Association, one in five Ontario doctors will retire within the next decade.

And thanks to a history of indifference on the part of successive governments, Liberal, NDP, Tory and Liberal again, we are not producing anywhere near enough new doctors to replace the old in numbers, never mind experience. Even with the increase in medical school enrollment promised by the provincial Liberals, it’s just not going to happen.

Reported plans to fast-track the now-legendary Toronto cabdriver/MD’s into our system will do little to alleviate the shortage. There just aren’t that many who can meet our standards. Enticing foreign doctors to come to Ontario (another part of the government’s strategy) is not only ethically questionable, but far from a done deal- there are plenty of other more welcoming places for young docs to set up shop. The government needs to drastically increase our investment in training new family doctors of our own. We need hundreds more in our medical schools, and we need them now.

The neglect of the past decade and a half cannot be remedied overnight, but unless the premier leads the way he will condemn this province to a future in which increasing numbers of Ontarians will never have a family doctor. Is that what you want for yourself or your kids? The cost of such a lack of primary care will far surpass that of creating more spaces in Ontario medical schools. Mr. McGuinty, win or lose you showed initiative and commitment in the fight to bring the Shriners’ Hospital to London. Please, please, for the sake of all Ontarians, bring that same determination to bear on the doctor shortage. Or Ontario will lose much more than just a new hospital.

Crickets. And seventeen years later the problem has only gotten (much) worse.

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