It is certainly a difficult time to be a doctor in Ontario. It is two years since we’ve had a contract with the government. The population of the province continues to grow and age. The stress of living in a province with a burgeoning deficit and the additional burden this places on citizens does take its toll. If people feel this additional burden through health problems, they will seek out medical assistance, available to them through their family physician and the specialists they regularly see.
What is remarkable during this period of uncertainty is that doctors in Ontario continue to work as they always have. They may put up posters, gather petitions and plan activities to raise awareness about the government’s attitude, but, in their offices, they provide the same care they have always provided.
Ontario’s doctors are also considering the introduction of a difficult new national policy on physician assisted death. There are new guidelines to learn in an area of medicine that is and will be fraught with significant moral and ethical dilemmas, dilemmas that arise at a time when patients are suffering and their families are tremendously worried. Nonetheless, doctors are doing the necessary work to prepare for this development.
Despite not having a contract, family physicians are reviewing and meeting about the Ontario Government’s introduction of Patients First. They are concerned, but putting patients first is what they do so they participate to make the program better.
Not having a contract is difficult because it means that you can’t plan for your practice. You have to wonder about paying your staff or whether you should sign a more expensive lease. You wonder how many years you will go without an increase that will help you buy the most up to date equipment. It puts you on edge, as it would any small business owner.
As an OMA Board member, I have heard a lot of doctors’ concerns. They are the concerns I have outlined. The atmosphere at meetings is tense because the stress is building and, as much as we’d like to get back to negotiating with the government, doctors want to be treated fairly and respectfully by the government.
In this atmosphere, the Ontario Health Minister, a doctor himself, blames the Ontario Medical Association for the lack of an agreement, with no acknowledgement of the efforts of Ontario doctors to keep their practices working for patients. The Minister called the OMA “intransigent” in the context of two years’ of unilateral cuts by his government to physician services. Ontario doctors want to negotiate a contract, not have fees imposed. The Minister would be correct in the assessment that we will not bend on that point.
We have also, however, been diligent, uncompromising and inflexible in the quality of care that we have provided to the people of Ontario. Access to care has not been compromised by physicians.
Can the Minister say the same?