Waiting lists, staff shortages cited as reasons, not
August 22, 2000
The Ontario government has not eliminated a system for reducing physicians' fees when their income exceeds a certain threshold. In fact, Ontario has raised the threshold. Incorrect information appeared in a Southam News story in the August 22 paper. The National Post regrets the error.
TORONTO - Almost one in three Ontario doctors is seriously thinking of moving to the United States or some other country, a newly released survey suggests.
At the same time, more than half of those polled said they believed their patients would have no one to look after them if they stopped working where they are now.
The survey conducted early this year underlines that many physicians are becoming fed up with waiting lists and a shortage of medical personnel, said Dr. Albert Schumacher, president of the Ontario Medical Association.
It is such concerns, not more money, that make the United States look attractive to them, he said.
"Many people who looked toward higher incomes are the ones who have already gone," said Dr. Schumacher.
"We're now left with people who want to stay in Canada. But that day-to- day pressure of all these little intangible things that happen to you at work increases the frustration."
The shortage of doctors here is a particular cause of anxiety, forcing physicians to work longer hours and making it more difficult for them to take time off, Dr. Schumacher said.
Just less than 600 doctors left the country in 1999, down from a peak of 731 in 1996, according to the Canadian Health Institute for Health Information. Another 343 physicians returned to Canada last year, the institute says, for a net loss of less than 300.
The survey of Ontario doctors was conducted for the medical association by Angus Reid in preparation for fee negotiations with the province.
The physicians won a deal last April that gave them fee hikes and other benefits. Key results of the poll were published recently by the association.
More than 9,600 doctors responded, making the results accurate to within 0.8 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
The chief aim of the poll was to glean what physicians thought should be the top priorities in bargaining with the government. But association members were also asked about their own working conditions and the state of the system generally.
Their responses revealed a bleak outlook.
The survey suggests that 28% of Ontario doctors were seriously considering migrating to the United States or some other country, while 32% intended to leave the country within three years if their fees weren't increased.
More than 90% said delays in treatment caused by waiting lists have hurt the health of patients.
More than three-quarters said there were not enough doctors in Ontario to meet patients' real needs.
And 57% agreed with the statement: "If I stopped working, there would be no one to look after my patients."
The deal with the government gave them increases of 2% a year over four years and eliminated a system that cut what they could earn over a certain income threshold.
Among other perks, women doctors won the promise of maternity leave.
It seems many physicians wanted more, as 77% said their association should push for pensions for doctors.
According to a Statistics Canada study, reported in the National Post yesterday, overall U.S. mean earnings for doctors were 12% higher than in Canada in 1974. This gap rose to 29.2% by 1997.
Barry Wilson, a spokesman for Elizabeth Witmer, Ontario's Minister of Health, said he could not provide statistics on how many doctors have already left for the United States, but said the province is concerned about keeping existing physicians and recruiting more.
The ministry plans to announce funding for increased enrolment in medical school within weeks, Mr. Wilson revealed.