RM Issue #031020
Canada lags most Western countries in doctors per capita: report
By DENNIS BUECKERT Thu, October 16, 2003
OTTAWA (CP) - Canada has one of the lowest ratios of doctors to population in the Western world, according to new figures from an international body.
In 2001, Canada had 2.1 practising physicians for every 1,000 residents, less than half as many as Greece which came in at the top of the scale at 4.4, says a report from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.
The list of countries that out-doctor Canada includes the Slovak Republic (3.6), Hungary and Switzerland (both at 3.5) and the Czech Republic (3.4).
France, Germany and The Netherlands all had 3.3 doctors per 1,000, roughly a third more than Canada, according to figures released Thursday.
Despite a significant increase in health spending since the 1990s, Canada's physician workforce remains far below the OECD average of 2.9.
Researchers have been warning for at least a decade that Canada is facing a shortage of doctors, said Sunil Patel, president of the Canadian Medical Association.
"Canadians face a very serious risk of dwindling health human resources," he said.
"There's been no leadership shown by any level of government and especially the federal government."
Among other things, he has called for the fast-tracking of accreditation for foreign medical graduates.
The OECD average for doctors was 2.9 for each 1,000 of population, and the only countries with a lower number than Canada in 2001 were Mexico (1.5), Korea (1.4) and Turkey (1.3).
The study does not provide 2001 figures for the United States or the United Kingdom but in 1999 the U.S. figure was 2.7 for each 1,000 and the U.K. figure was 2.0.
The scarcity of Canadian doctors is in part the result of deliberate government policy. During the 1990s, provincial governments cut enrolment in medical and nursing schools as a strategy to cut medical costs.
In recent years, the federal government has increased health spending and enrolment, but working conditions remain a major complaint.
Patel said there were 11 doctors in Gimli, Man., when he started practising there in 1973, but now there are only five, even though the population has grown.
He said Canada is losing an average of 250 doctors each year, mainly to the United States. Many of them are leaving because they lack the support and facilities, he said.
"The working conditions are abominable.
"Think of it - three million Canadians do not have access to a family doctor. That is unacceptable in a developed country. We need more hands on deck."
The study found that Canada has more nurses per capita than the OECD average but the ratio has been dropping while in most other countries it has been rising.<