Doctors, chamber issue plan to tackle physician recruitment

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Manitoba doctors have written a prescription to ease the chronic shortage of physicians in rural and remote areas.

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Manitoba doctors have written a prescription to ease the chronic shortage of physicians in rural and remote areas.

They want the province to expand training, streamline recruitment and find financial supports for doctors, including those from other provinces.

“A lack of physicians has contributed to more rural ERs being closed this summer than ever before. It’s also left 150,000 Manitobans without a family doctor. It’s led to more First Nations peoples leaving their communities to just basically access some primary care in Winnipeg,” said Dr. Candace Bradshaw, president of Doctors Manitoba.

ERIK PINDERA/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Dr. Candace Bradshaw said the province is facing one of the biggest shortages of physicians in the country, which is particularly acute in rural regions.

She and Chuck Davidson, president of the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce, released recommendations for the province to recruit and retain physicians Friday. Their report was the result of a rural health-care summit the two organizations held in Portage la Prairie in September.

Bradshaw said the province is facing one of the biggest shortages of doctors in the country, which is particularly acute in rural regions.

“A shortage of physicians means patients can’t always get the care that they need, when they need it, and close to their home,” Bradshaw said.

Doctors Manitoba has been recently ringing alarm bells about shortages in all positions, as the COVID-19 pandemic increased burnout and workers retired or quit.

A recent survey by the advocacy group found 43 per cent of physicians plan to retire, leave the province or reduce the clinical hours in the next three years, Bradshaw said.

“This isn’t a new problem but it’s one that’s on track right now to get worse,” she said.

Bradshaw said the province is trying to woo doctors in a competitive environment.

“If we want to compete (with other jurisdictions), we need to get better organized to show physicians the full package, both for them and their families,” she said.

Each year, 110 doctors graduate from the University of Manitoba’s medical school. Some of them are in programs that require work in rural and northern areas. Bradshaw said that should requirement should be expanded.

The report also calls for a recruitment grant for doctors to work in areas with shortages, and guaranteed incomes for two to three years when starting a practice in a rural or northern area. The amount of money isn’t specified.

Manitoba has the lowest number of family physicians per capita nationwide, at 108 per 100,000 residents as of 2020, Bradshaw said. There were 216 overall physicians per 100,000 as of the same year.

Manitoba Health’s latest annual report shows the budget for physician recruitment and retention was reduced to $22.9 million in 2021-22 from $23.94 million a year earlier. Spending on out-of-province doctors increased — something Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont criticized during question period Friday.

Health Minister Audrey Gordon responded by saying the Progressive Conservative government has “invested $1 billion more than the NDP ever did into health care,” adding it is working with stakeholders such as Doctors Manitoba to address the issue.

NDP Leader Wab Kinew weighed in after question period.

“In the long term, the best solution, I believe, is to train more folks from these rural and northern communities.”

ERIK PINDERA/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

“We also don’t want to place all responsibility on this on the feet of government. The chamber network and business community feel that we can be part of the solution,” Chuck Davidson told reporters.

He said the way to do that is to entice more students from rural and remote areas to go to medical school.

The report also suggested finding efficiencies in the system to free up doctors from paperwork; an integrated recruitment website and agency, with input from local leaders; and a centralized service with a phone numbers for doctors to find specialists to refer patients to, among other information.

Burnout is the single biggest risk to doctors leaving the practice, Bradshaw said, adding the current situation is the worst she has experienced.

It could be addressed by reducing administrative work and reviewing what doctors are expected to do when on calls, the report said.

The province could also retain doctors for longer terms with more peer support and mentorship, help with infrastructure costs, and improve the retention program, the report said.

A government spokesperson said Health Minister Audrey Gordon attended the Portage summit and is reviewing the report’s “innovative” ideas.

“Our government is working with a health human resource task force, as well as a Shared Health recruitment group, and we will be rolling out a comprehensive action plan in the next few weeks,” the spokesperson said in an email.

Bradshaw said the issue will need to be addressed not just by the provincial government, but by Shared Health, health regions, the U of M and the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba, as well as local business and Indigenous leaders.

Local communities and chambers of commerce need to play a key role in recruiting and retaining rural doctors, Davidson said.

“Without a strong health-care system, we simply cannot support the attraction of new residents and new businesses,” he said.

erik.pindera@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @erik_pindera

Erik Pindera

Erik Pindera
Reporter

Erik Pindera reports for the city desk, with a particular focus on crime and justice.

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