'It's tone deaf': Family practice doctors in Ontario baffled by ministry memo asking them to stay open longer

'It's tone deaf': Family practice doctors in Ontario baffled by ministry memo asking them to stay open longer

A notice from the Ontario’s Ministry of Health, asking primary care providers to stay open seven days a week in an effort to ease wait times in hospitals, is being met with disbelief by many medical workers.

The notice was sent by Nadia Surani, the director of the primary health care branch in the Ministry of Health. It addresses the issues that are plaguing hospitals this fall, with an onslaught of COVID-19, influenza and Respiratory syncytial virus, which is expected to continue into the winter.

"I am writing to call on your support and requesting your organizations to offer clinical services 7 days a week, including evening availability, until further notice, to meet the needs of your patients,” the notice reads. “Please advise your patients of this availability so they may seek care in the appropriate place for their health concerns."

Nadia Alam is a family doctor in Georgetown, Ontario and past president of Ontario Medical Association. As she juggled a full work day and four kids at home who have respiratory syncytial virus, Alam says the notice made her feel disheartened and demoralized.

"Even though they say 'we see you're working hard, thank you for that but we need you to do more,'" she tells Yahoo News Canada. "It's tone deaf."

She says all throughout the pandemic, family doctors and nurses who work in primary care have been told they haven't been doing enough.

This isn't an isolated incident, this is an on-going narrative that we need to do more to help hospitals and ER that are overwhelmed. It's frustrating because you can't expect a subset of the healthcare system to fix what is really a healthcare system problem.Nadia Alam, family doctor in Georgetown, Ontario

On social media, many family care workers were stunned by the memo.

“And who supports the family doctors: nurses, admin…are they expected to also work these horrendous hours,” Instagram user meggsd99 wrote on a post that shared the province's notice. “This government is out of their minds! Most MDs are already working well above their mental, emotional and physical abilities but sure let’s burn them and support staff out even more.”

In a note to its members, the Association of Family Health Teams of Ontario followed up that many clinics across Ontario are keeping their doors open longer in order to address the high number of patients with respiratory illnesses, and that the ministry’s memo was not meant to be taken as a command.

"In discussions with the ministry, this memo was not intended to be directive nor prescriptive but was a request to communicate to your patients about how to access care, especially for sick children, with a focus on receiving care through their primary care teams first so that your patients do not seek care in the hospital if not needed," the association wrote.