One year ago, the Manitoba government issued a press release congratulating the University of Manitoba faculty of medicine’s class of 2013, which was one of the largest graduating classes on record.
In the release, then-health minister Theresa Oswald welcomed the graduates who were successful in competing for a Manitoba residency.
“I’m pleased that more than 70 per cent of Manitoba’s 105 medical school graduates plan to stay in Manitoba for their residencies,” Oswald said. “These new locally trained doctors will help provide timely access for medical care in hospitals and help bring us closer to our goal of ensuring all Manitobans have access to a family physician by 2015.”
Later in 2013, Oswald would announce that a record number of doctors (2,599) were practising in Manitoba.
But these good news stories seem to have had little effect on problematic doctor shortages that continue to plague rural hospitals. As a result, the goal of ensuring all Manitobans have access to a doctor seems quite off the rails for residents of western Manitoba at least, as hospitals gear up for more emergency room closures in the region.
Earlier this week, the Sun reported that a shortage of doctors has temporarily changed emergency room services in Virden.
Prairie Mountain Health CEO Penny Gilson said the Virden Health Centre’s ER is not operating on a 24-7 basis, but is open from Saturdays at 8 a.m. to Tuesdays at 8 a.m.
The lapse in ER services is due to the departure of two on-call physicians and a third physician taking an unexpected leave for May, leaving only two active doctors in the ER.
If this was only happening in Virden, perhaps it could be seen as an isolated incident. But Killarney’s hospital is also currently seeing some gaps in service, including roughly five days in May where there won’t be ER coverage.
Last fall, Deloraine’s emergency room was only open during business hours, Monday to Friday. For the evenings and weekends, the town had been on a shared on-call rotation, alternating ERs between Killarney and Boissevain.
The difficulty in attracting doctors to rural Manitoba is an ongoing problem, and we do believe the province has made attempts to rectify the situation.
This has included expanding medical schools to train more doctors, accepting more students with rural roots who are more likely to work in rural communities, exposing medical students to rural practice and offering free tuition for medical school students who agree to work in rural communities most in need.
But quite obviously, these actions have not sufficiently addressed the problem.
A government spokesperson told the Sun late last year that if communities have ideas with broad community support to stabilize and improve health services in rural areas, the province is open to them.
After 14 years in power, the governing NDP still seems baffled at how to fix the situation. While that is problematic, worse still is the fact that other political parties have ventured into the fray, mostly with criticism and few practical alternatives.
This needs to change. But how, is the question.