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More family doctors to help ease pressure on hospitals

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The province is training more family doctors as part of a series of measures designed to ease pressure on clogged hospital emergency rooms over the next five years.

Premier Greg Selinger led a delegation of MLAs and senior health-care officials Wednesday in the announcement to jump-start the health-care system.

The goal is to ensure patients not only have doctors to see, but they'll been seen by a doctor or a nurse practitioner within 48 hours of calling for an appointment, Selinger said at QuickCare Clinic, a North End medical clinic.

"We're here to talk about the progress we've made to make a family doctor available to every family," the premier said.

The promise was a major plank in the NDP's platform in last fall's election campaign, Selinger said.

Adding more training positions for doctors is a key to making good on the promise, he said.

"That will make a big difference and that will allow more people to be seen faster," the premier said.

The province plans to train more doctors by funding 14 additional family medicine residencies and is adding three training positions for nurse practitioners this fall. These professionals can prescribe some prescriptions and provide basic services.

The province is also signing up more doctors with private practices to take part in networks with other health-care professionals, making referrals at lot easier on patients by centralizing how their care is co-ordinated.

As of 2010, there were 180,000 people in Manitoba without family doctors, and even people with a family physician had to wait weeks for an appointment.

One Winnipeg woman who was in that position said the new system works better for her and her family.

Leslie Orlikow, 63, said she was initially hesitant when her family doctor closed his private practice three years ago and joined a network with a nurse practitioners and other health-care professionals.

But it has worked out fine, she said.

"You know what? It's like a godsend," she said. "I go to the Access Centre on Corydon and Harrow. You can call on a Monday or a Tuesday and you're seen within a day or two. You might not see your doctor, but you do see a nurse practitioner. It's worked beautifully."

Some 21 new or expanded primary care clinics are also under construction or on the drawing board to be open over the next three years.

Then there are incentives negotiated last year with the Manitoba Medical Association that have attracted 380 doctors willing to offer chronic-care services to some 34,000 Manitoba patients.

The initiatives announced Wednesday will cost the system $5.7 million this year, according to provincial figures.

There are now more than 100 residencies for doctors in Manitoba every year. Family practice is a two-year program, after medical school, meaning the first of the new doctors will hang out shingles in 2014.

The dean of family medicine at the University of Manitoba medical school applauded training for family doctors.

"This is something that is very much needed," Dr. Jamie Boyd said. "It will make a significant difference in how we can provide all the things the premier has mentioned."

The province currently spends $5 billion a year on health care in Manitoba.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 14, 2012 A6

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