Reported by Richard Coffin

Ontario’s doctors have released a ‘Prescription for Northern Ontario’.

The Ontario Medical Association (OMA) says it’s part of a larger master plan which will be released Tuesday and provides 75 provincewide recommendations for implementation over the next four years.

Among other problems, the OMA says the current healthcare system is plagued by physician shortages, long wait times, a backlog of services, inadequate mental health and addiction programs and insufficient home and community care.

They say nowhere are the issues more critical than in northern Ontario.

“These issues are not dissimilar to what they are in the rest of the province, but the reality is they are much more magnified and much more critical,” says Dr Sarita Verma, Dean of the Northern Ontario School of Medicine.

She says the OMA action plan is an unprecedented commitment to northern Ontario needs.

Dr. Adam Kassam, President of the OMA, says providing healthcare in the north is a unique challenge that requires unique solutions.

“Ontario’s doctors are frustrated because patients aren’t able to get the care that they need, when they need it.  Let’s be honest, that’s gone on for far too long,” he says.  “Healthcare in northern Ontario can be improved and frankly, must be improved.”

Dr. Kassam says one in eight people in the north, and more than a million people across Ontario don’t have access to a family doctor.

“This is a real risk to the long-term health of residents,” he says.

The OMA action plan includes 12 recommendations:

1. That patients have equitable access to care in their own communities.

2. Reviewing and updating incentives and supports for physicians and allied health-care workers to practise in northern Ontario and other communities that are chronically underserviced.

3. Focusing on education, training, innovation and opportunities for collaborative care to address physician (health-provider) shortages in remote communities.

4. Creating resourced opportunities for specialist and subspecialist trainees to undertake electives and core rotations in the north.

5. Giving medical students and residents the skills and opportunities they need to be confident in choosing rural and remote practices.

6. Focusing on innovative culturally sensitive education and training opportunities addressing physician and other health-provider shortages in rural and remote communities.

7. Focusing on the profound and disproportionate impact of the opioid crisis and mental health issues in northern Ontario.

8. More social workers, mental health and addiction care providers and resources for children’s mental health.

9. Enhancing internet connectivity in remote areas to support virtual care, keeping in mind that virtual care will not solve health human resources problems in northern Ontario and should not replace in-person care.

10. A recognition of the specific need for local access to culturally safe and linguistically appropriate health care for northern Ontario’s francophone population and Indigenous Peoples.

11. A collaborative partnership with Indigenous Services Canada and Health Canada to address issues of safe drinking water and adequacy of healthcare facilities and resources in Indigenous communities.

12. Using a harm-reduction, anti-oppressive lens, addressing the education gaps in Indigenous communities and non-Indigenous communities, as health is directly affected by education.

The OMA is urging all political parties to adopt its recommendations as part of their platforms ahead of next year’s provincial election.