Action on physician shortage lacks urgency
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It has been four months since the Progressive Conservative government announced its $200-million health human resource action plan to recruit, train and retain front-line staff. One of the key objectives of the initiative: to add 2,000 medical professionals to the system.
If the plan was supposed to include more doctors in hospitals, medical clinics and family physicians’ offices, Manitobans have yet to see any evidence of it.
In fact, the province’s physician shortage appears to be getting worse, including at Grace Hospital, where a lack of overnight doctor coverage is putting patient safety at risk. The situation there is so severe, a group of 45 physicians has written an open letter to Health Minister Audrey Gordon pleading for help.
Ms. Gordon’s response to the letter is one Manitobans have heard many times before. She said her government is listening to physicians and taking steps to address their concerns. “What I say to those doctors is our government is responding,” she said.
But is it? The Tories say they are listening, responding and “taking action” to fix a problem that was largely their own doing (when the province rushed to amalgamate acute care hospitals in Winnipeg between 2017 and 2019 without proper planning and consultation). Yet there appears to be no urgency in their resolve to do so.
“Manitobans, and all Canadians, expect their leaders to come together to solve issues that matter most to them,” Premier Heather Stefanson said in November, when her government launched the health human-resource action plan. “We are listening and we are taking action.”
Ms. Gordon told Manitobans at the time she consulted widely with front-line staff and incorporated their ideas and concerns into the province’s action plan.
“We hear you and we are here for you,” the minister said.
The Tories say they are listening, responding and “taking action” to fix a problem that was largely their own doing. Yet there appears to be no urgency in their resolve to do so.
Fast forward four months and doctors at Grace Hospital say their voices have not been heard, nor have their concerns been addressed. The situation is so bad, some physicians do not feel comfortable working at the hospital.
Doctors Manitoba, which represents physicians across the province, has not been fully heard, either. Representatives from the organization said they were surprised last week when the provincial budget froze funding for physician recruitment and training (after the fund was cut twice in previous years and underspent every year since 2016).
The Tory government has not made good on its pledge to provide physicians with “practice stabilization support” as part of the health human-resource plan, Doctors Manitoba says. Other provinces have provided physicians with additional resources to address rising costs from the COVID-19 pandemic and from inflation, but not Manitoba.
“Funding has been absolutely flat, and add to that a physician shortage, and it means there’s a lot of vacancies in clinics and empty exam rooms,” said Dr. Candace Bradshaw, the organization’s president. She called the province’s failure to offer immediate relief “devastating.”
Ms. Gordon responded last week with more empty platitudes, claiming her government is working with Doctors Manitoba and all health-care professionals to alleviate staffing shortages. Those words are meaningless without action.
Manitoba’s doctor shortage cannot be solved overnight. Indeed, it is part of a national shortage affecting all provinces. However, there are immediate steps the province could take, such as filling critical positions at Grace Hospital and providing physicians with financial support, that would help in the interim. It is alarming those requests have fallen on deaf ears.