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London Free Press Business Section:


Plan to attract doctors kicks off

Free Press staff and news services   2004-01-16 03:36:54  

A campaign aimed at the shortage of family doctors in Ontario is kicking off with its first stop in Chatham-Kent, an area hit hard by shortages. The NOW alliance, which includes municipal politicians and physician groups, has scheduled a town-hall meeting in Chatham on Jan. 30 to promote a 19-point plan.

It was estimated last year that Chatham-Kent was lacking about two-dozen family doctors.

At a Toronto news conference yesterday, NOW warned that the shortage is spreading from smaller Ontario communities to larger cities, including Windsor and Kitchener-Waterloo.

A total of 118 communities are short 665 family physicians, affecting more than one million Ontario residents, said Ingrid Parkes, a Kenora councillor and member of the alliance. "This is an outrageous, frightening and unacceptable situation."

NOW, which stands for Negotiating Ontario's Well-Being, is composed of politicians and doctors who are urging the government to provide more funding to attract and retain family doctors.

It wants the Health Ministry and Ontario Medical Association to "agree to a package of incentive measures," including a separate pool of funding, said Richard Adams, a Parry Sound councillor.

The current agreement between the province and the association includes more than $4 billion to fund doctors' salaries that alliance members said could be used more efficiently.

"The next agreement could get more family doctors on contract than on the old fee-for-service system, a key step to filling these vacancies," said Dr. Joseph Mikhael.

Parkes said that money could be used in such a way "that our citizens get the physicians and health services to which all other Ontario citizens have become accustomed."

Alliance members couldn't put cost figures on their proposals, although they said the ideas would require additional government funding.

Premier Dalton McGuinty wouldn't commit to putting additional money into a special fund to deal with doctor shortages during the contract negotiations with the OMA, which are scheduled to begin at the end of the month.

"What we're going to talk about is how we can enlist doctors in the service of the greater public interest to make sure Ontarians are more healthy," McGuinty said yesterday.

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