Kiiwetinoong MPP, Sol Mamakwa is still advocating for the continuous physician shortage to be fixed in hospitals in his riding and across Northwestern Ontario
Mamakwa was lobbying at Question Period at Queens Park earlier this week on recent events that have happened due to a lack of physicians.
He said the situation that forced Red Lake to close their emergency room, narrowly happened in Sioux Lookout – a health hub for many First Nation communities.
“One physician worked ten 24 hour shifts in a month because of a lack of doctors to fill these shifts,” said Mamakwa. Physicians are only supposed to work a maximum of four of these shifts a month, the well-being of doctors and patients are at risk.”
Minister of Health and Deputy Premier, Christine Elliott says they are in the works to limit the number of shifts one doctor can work per month.
“We have committed over $6.2 million across 32 primary care teams in areas of greatest need in the province and that would include most of Northern Ontario. That helps people stay connected to care within their communities and not have to go into hospitals by reason of default.”
Mamakwa says regional and district hospitals need solutions now and not years into the future.
“This government knows the doctor shortage crisis in the North will lead to more emergency department closures.”
Hospitals have access to the Ontario Physician Locum Programs (OPLP), which provides centralized and coordinated locum physician assistance for hospitals, communities, and physicians across the province.
Through the OPLP the province will provide Emergency Department, Northern Specialist, and Rural Family Medicine programs.
Though hospitals have access to this service, the travel to these remote places does become an issue.
“Scheduling is precarious and one missed flight or a sick day for physicians forces the small complement of physicians to cover these shifts or risk closing the hospital's emergency department,” noted Mamakwa.
To rectify the situation the province Elliott says Ontario is adding 160 undergraduate and 295 post-graduate seats in the next five years, which is the largest expansion in medical schools in the last 10 years.
The Northern Ontario School of Medicine will receive 41 under-graduates and 30 post-graduate seats.
Ontario ranks seventh among Canadian provinces in the number of family doctors per 100,000 patients, and the shortage is made worse in northern and rural areas, according to data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information.
They add that Ontario spends an average of 8 per cent less on healthcare per capita than any other province in Canada outside of British Columbia.
Last week, Official Opposition Leader Andrea Horwath “sounded the alarm” on the doctor shortage directly at the Ford government.
“Northerners deserve to have quality, reliable access to healthcare,” said Official Opposition Leader Andrea Horwath. “They shouldn’t have to travel hundreds of kilometres to get to an emergency room. No one should ever pull up to the hospital to find the ER doors locked,” said Horwath.
The NDP says Dr. Sara Van Der Loo, chair of the Northwest Regional Chief of Staff Council, has warned that every small hospital in the region could see its emergency rooms close due to physician shortages, and hospitals across northwestern Ontario are at risk.
“Many communities across the north are suffering a severe shortage of physicians,” wrote Van Der Loo. “The decision and consequences of closures need to be owned by the government, including Ontario Health, and not the clinicians in communities.”
On March 26, the Red Lake Margaret Cochenour Hospital emergency room had to close its doors for the whole weekend due to its own local physician shortage and leave its community without emergency room coverage.
As a result of the emergency room closure, those that needed emergency care were redirected to the Dryden Regional Health Centre 216 kilometres southeast.