Too many doctors leaving Quebec’s public system, warns federation of practitioners

"We chose in Quebec to have a public system and we should work on that," says the vice-president of the FMOQ, who warns too many doctors are leaving the public sector. Anastasia Dextrene reports.

A federation of general practitioners in Quebec is sounding the alarm about the state of the province’s health-care system.

The Fédération des médecins omnipraticiens du Québec (FMOQ) tells CityNews Quebec needs more doctors, with many of them leaving the public sector.

“There’s a lot of pressure actually in family doctors in the public system to do more and more and not enough recognition of what they already do,” said FMOQ vice-president Dr. Guillaume Charbonneau.

“We have to think about how can we make our public health care more attractive for family doctors. How can we value better family doctors? How can we support their work?”

The FMOQ says the private health sector in Quebec is growing, with doctors and other health professionals swayed by better pay, better work conditions and more flexibility around scheduling.

“Progressively that has made it more acceptable for students who say ‘I love my job, I am super happy to have chosen family medicine, I want to do family medicine, but I want to do it in the context where I’ll keep my mental health and I’ll have my balance between my private and my professional life,'” Charbonneau said.

Family physician Dr. Neb Kovacina says there are immediate repercussions to doctors leaving the public sphere.

“If we are not able to replace these physicians who are going to retire, then we are not going to be able to provide the services to the growing population. So for sure the population is going to feel it. We are feeling it on the ground as clinicians that we need more resources,” said Kovacina, who’s also a professor of family medicine at McGill University.

Quebec short up to 2,000 family doctors?

In Quebec, more than 30 per cent of jobs for family doctors extend beyond the scope of clinical care, making the need even more urgent.

“Most of the emergency room doctors in Quebec are family doctors,” Charbonneau said. “If you get hospitalized in a hospital, there’s a lot of chance that you will be hospitalized by a family doctor. Family doctor also provide home care, long-term care, delivery.

“The minister of health recognizes that we’re missing 1,200 family doctors. Our evaluation is more around 1,500 to 2,000 family doctors that we would need to fill all the necessity of the system in Quebec.”

Health professionals say despite higher prices, the private system is becoming more attractive for patients too.

“We are one of the provinces with the highest percentage of non-registered patients, unattached patients to clinics,” said Kovacina. “So then there is a market for that because we have almost 30 per cent of population that’s not registered. And then there is a lot of people who are ready to pay because they’re on the waiting list for two years.”

“We have to say that those doctors who work in the private, they contribute to access in a way and we don’t deny that,” added Charbonneau. “But I think we chose in Canada and Quebec to have a public system that should be accessible for everybody. So I think we should work on that.”

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