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Ontario plan a wake-up call for Manitoba

The Ontario government plans to introduce legislation next month that would allow licensed health-care professionals from other provinces to practise there without having to recertify.

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Opinion

The Ontario government plans to introduce legislation next month that would allow licensed health-care professionals from other provinces to practise there without having to recertify.

This should be a wake-up call for the Manitoba government, as the province continues to struggle with one of the worst shortages of health-care staff in recent memory.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced last week that health-care professionals already registered or licensed in other provinces will soon be able to work there with existing credentials, as long as they are in good standing with their home colleges. It would be a first for any province.

Health-care professionals, such as doctors and nurses, are licensed to practise through the authority of their local colleges. If they want to work in other provinces, they normally have to go through a recertification process with the regulatory body in those jurisdictions, which can take months.

That could spell disaster for Manitoba, where vacancy rates are already so high, particularly in nursing, that health authorities have had to close hospital beds temporarily, including in emergency departments and operating rooms.

It’s unknown what impact Ontario’s proposed change will have on provinces such as Manitoba. However, it will be an added incentive for health-care professionals here to relocate, if wages and working conditions are more attractive in Ontario.

That could spell disaster for Manitoba, where vacancy rates are already so high, particularly in nursing, that health authorities have had to close hospital beds temporarily, including in emergency departments and operating rooms.

Manitoba has to get serious about its health-care staffing shortage. The Stefanson government last November announced a plan to retain, recruit and train 2,000 more health-care staff, with a budget of $200 million. However, aside from measures to attract nurses back to the workforce from retirement (or from the private sector), few details of the plan have been released or updated.

Meanwhile, Manitoba has the lowest number of family doctors per capita in Canada and the third-lowest number of specialist physicians in the country, according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information.

There are many unanswered questions around Ontario’s plan, including how health-care professionals from other provinces would be regulated. Professional bodies do not normally monitor the conduct of their registrants outside of their respective provinces. Those and other concerns are expected to be addressed when the Ford government unveils its proposed legislation.

Steps must be taken to improve working conditions and to better communicate with front-line workers in order to understand why so many are leaving the field.

Manitoba should not necessarily follow Ontario’s lead in accepting professional credentials from other provinces. However, it should examine the details of the plan and explore, along with other provinces, what opportunities exist to allow health-care professionals to more easily practice between provinces.

What Health Minister Audrey Gordon should do immediately is unveil a comprehensive plan to recruit and retain health-care staff from all professions. Steps must be taken to improve working conditions and to better communicate with front-line workers in order to understand why so many are leaving the field.

The Stefanson government also has to loosen the purse strings. Years of austerity in health care and long delays in signing new contracts with staff have contributed to the shortage. Manitoba is expecting a windfall in transfer payments from Ottawa this year (a record $577 million in additional equalization payments alone in 2023-24, a 20 per cent increase). That money should be used, at least part, to boost wages and other incentives, improve working conditions and expand training of health care professionals.

There should be specifics attached to the plan, including timelines and targets. Manitoba cannot afford to lose more health-care workers, to Ontario or anywhere else.

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