Addressing health-care challenges and service gaps in northern Ontario are among the top priorities of a major new plan by the Ontario Medical Association to transform the province’s struggling health-care system.
Prescription for Northern Ontario, released today by the OMA, is an ambitious action plan containing 12 recommendations to address the unique health-care challenges in the north, including:
- The chronic shortage of doctors, especially in specialities such as family medicine, emergency medicine and anesthesia
- The profound and disproportionate impact of the opioid crisis and mental health issues, including insufficient numbers of mental health and addiction care providers, especially those who help children
- The lack of high-speed internet and unreliable connectivity, which limits the availability of high-quality virtual health care
- Unsafe drinking water and inadequate health-care facilities and resources in Indigenous communities
Prescription for Northern Ontario is part of a larger master plan, Prescription for Ontario: Doctors’ 5-Point Plan for Better Health Care, which will be released Tuesday and provides 75 provincewide recommendations for implementation over the next four years. Both road maps are the result of the largest consultation in the OMA’s 140-year history, which involved 110 stakeholder groups, 1,600 physicians and almost 8,000 Ontarians from 600 communities.
“The OMA recognizes that the northern disparities in health care have existed for many years but the COVID-19 pandemic has made these gaps more visible and the need for solutions more urgent,” OMA President Dr. Adam Kassam said at a news conference today at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine.
Northern Ontario spans almost 90 per cent of the province’s geography but had only six per cent of the population. Its distance, weather and infrastructure including reliable internet present barriers to health-care services.
The health-care needs of northern Ontario are growing. A greater proportion of its population is over 65. There are more complex chronic illnesses and mental health and addictions than in other regions, and the average life expectancy is 2.5 years lower than in the rest of the province. At the same time, the number of doctors dropped from 1,715 in 2018 to 1,700 in 2019. Almost 100 generalist family physicians are needed in northern Ontario’s rural communities.
With a provincial election less than a year away, the OMA is urging all political parties to adopt its recommendations as part of their platforms.
“Now is our best chance to work together and rebuild Ontario’s health-care system for the long term,” said OMA CEO Allan O’Dette. “Together, we will have better outcomes for everyone and be prepared for when – not if – the next major health crisis hits.”