June 17, 2008

Ont. Introduces Bill to Get More Foreign-Trained Doctors Working in Province


TORONTO - Self-governing bodies like the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario will share in the responsibility of helping more foreign-trained doctors get work in the province, Health Minister George Smitherman said Monday in introducing new legislation that is slated to pass in the fall.

The bill, which Smitherman touted as a "significant" step toward improving access to health care, will require that regulators work with the government to ensure Ontario has enough health-care professionals.

But critics say it falls far short of Smitherman's recent promise to introduce changes that would break down regulatory barriers and increase the number of foreign-trained doctors working in the province.

"It's unbelievable," said Progressive Conservative health critic Elizabeth Witmer. "So they say, 'It's now up to you colleges. We can't do what we said we would do."'

Smitherman promised more than a week ago to take steps to help international physicians get work more easily but the legislation does nothing to help them, she said.

It doesn't even mention the recommendations in a government report that Smitherman held up as a roadmap towards increasing the number of foreign-trained doctors, she added.

Those recommendations include putting doctors to work immediately if they've already worked and trained in countries with a comparable health-care system and creating a so-called "transitional licence" that would allow foreign-trained doctors to practise while under supervision.

The college says it already issues restricted certificates, which allow doctors to work while under the supervision of another physician.

The government will work with the College of Physicians and Surgeons over the summer to develop the appropriate regulatory changes, Smitherman said.

"None of the changes we are proposing will result in short cuts to practice of any kind," he told the legislature.

"Rather they will improve access for Ontarians to doctors who want to practice medicine, who are qualified to practice medicine, and that ... is the name of the game."

Other provinces like Saskatchewan have fewer doctors per person, yet still enjoy better access to health care, said NDP critic France Gelinas.

"Let's not pretend that this alone will solve the problem of lack of access to health care or radically improve the quality of care or ensure the financial sustainability of our health care system," she said.

"It won't do this. If we are serious about improving quality of care and access to care and affordability of care, we need to radically increase the supply of other health-care professionals."

Currently, more than 5,000 foreign-trained doctors are practising in Ontario, and 630 others are in residency training, according to the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care.

Meanwhile, 850,000 people in the province still don't have a family doctor, according to a recent report by the Ontario Medical Association.

The report noted the province is short about 2,500 doctors and that many practicing physicians are over the age of 65.

If they decided to retire, Ontario would lose about 10 per cent of its family doctors and about 13 per cent of its specialists, the report said.