Immediate action needed as physician shortage reaches historic high: Doctors Manitoba

The organization that represents doctors in Manitoba says it’s staggered by a growing shortage of physicians in the province, and more needs to be done to address a projected exodus.

Manitoba has 217 doctors per 100,000 residents, a report released last week by the Canadian Institute for Health Information says — the third-lowest rate in the country, ahead only of Saskatchewan and Prince Edward Island.

The province would need 405 more physicians to reach the Canadian average of 246 per 100,000 residents, Doctors Manitoba said on Thursday, citing the CIHI data.

That’s up 13 per cent from a shortfall of 359 doctors in Manitoba in 2020, and the highest number reported over five decades of monitoring, the physicians advocacy organization said in its latest update on physician resources.

That shortage affects all Manitobans, said Dr. Candace Bradshaw, a family physician and the president of Doctors Manitoba, “whether you’re trying to find a family doctor, waiting to see a specialist, concerned about the overcrowding in the ERs or stuck in the surgery and testing backlog.”

“Without a big change, the physician shortage is projected to get even worse in the short term, with 43 per cent of physicians planning on retiring, leaving the province or reducing clinical hours,” Bradshaw said at a Thursday news conference, citing the findings of an October survey conducted by Doctors Manitoba.

That loss of doctors is preventable, but only if the province acts quickly, she said.

About three-quarters of those who said they are planning to leave the province or reduce their hours identified systemic issues as key reasons for their frustration, especially excessive paperwork, unreasonable on-call hours and a lack of control over patient care, according to the Doctors Manitoba survey.

The organization has submitted possible solutions to the government, said Bradshaw.

“All we’re waiting for is action.”

In late October, the organization released five recommendations to help the province recruit and retain health-care staff, including expanding training, making recruitment efforts more straightforward and coming up with financial incentives to smooth out-of-province candidates’ transition to Manitoba.

Two weeks ago, the provincial government held a news conference together with Doctors Manitoba and the Manitoba Nurses Union to announce a plan to add 2,000 health-care professionals to the public system with $200 million in funding.

Bradshaw wants to see a concrete action plan and a commitment to accept all of the Doctors Manitoba proposals.

“In two weeks, we’ve seen a lot of promises and interest and optimism, but we need action,” Bradshaw said.

“You snooze, you lose. We have to get on this yesterday.”

Other provinces are providing better support for doctors, including improving working conditions, covering the costs of personal protective equipment, compensating them for administrative tasks, and allowing more time for each patient, said Bradshaw.

“It makes you feel like you’re not running on a treadmill all day long and it improves your quality of life.”

CBC News requested a comment from the health minister’s office but didn’t immediately receive a response.

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