Doctors want commitment on physician recruitment

·2 min read

The Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association (NLMA) announced its wish list Monday from the parties seeking election next month, but there’s really only one big item on it: family doctors.

The association says the province desperately needs more of them, particularly in rural areas.

NLMA president Dr. Lynette Powell told reporters there are a lot of “burning issues” facing the health-care system.

“Physician shortages is certainly one of those issues,” she said. “Our competitive status across Canada … currently we’re the least competitive province in the country. That’s not getting any better.”

There are still about 90,000 people without a family doctor in the province, she said.

“Our rural communities are really, really suffering from the fact that they have very poor access to care.”

The NLMA has noted in the past that it has heard from graduates of Memorial University’s school of medicine who say they’ve never been recruited to stay in the province.

“Recruitment and retention of doctors is a fundamental problem in many regions and specialties,” the letter to party leaders states. “Our province retains less than half of the medical students from Memorial University’s faculty of medicine, the worst record of any province in Canada.

The letter says the government has not focused on attaching patients to family doctors and building real primary health-care teams.

“The evidence is clear,” the letter continues. “People who lack access to this type of comprehensive and continuous care are more likely to be admitted to hospital, more likely to use expensive emergency departments and more likely to be treated by a parade of providers who will need to repeat costly tests to diagnose their conditions. This is an expensive overuse of health resources.”

Asked what solutions the NLMA would suggest, Powell said she is reluctant to get into details because the NLMA is currently in contract negotiations with the government.

The NLMA's last contract expired more than three and a half years ago.

But she said their leadership is in regular contact with the recently formed Health Accord task force aimed at reshaping how the province delivers health care.

“We hold firmly the position that all decisions in health care should be made on best evidence and should be made based on highest patient need,” Powell said. “The task force, I believe, holds those same values and opinions, and we do believe that handing decisions to an evidence-based venue is better than some of these decisions being made purely for political reasons.”

Powell said the association will release answers it receives from party leaders.

It also has a short advertisement it will run on local television channels highlighting the importance of having a family doctor.

Peter Jackson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Telegram