TORONTO—News that the province will be cutting 50 medical residency positions across Ontario landed with a startling thud recently, but it is the other shoe that has Northern medical professionals and politicians on edge.
“Most alarming is that we do not know where these cuts are going to take place,” said Algoma-Manitoulin MPP Mike Mantha. “The province made this announcement without any consultation or discussion with the medical field before the decision was made. Now these places are going to be cut and we are concerned that most of them will be in the North.”
Mr. Mantha noted that the two-year residency placements that conclude a doctor’s training play a key role in the Northern Ontario School of Medicine’s strategy to recruit and retain doctors in the North. Any reduction in those spaces in the North will have a much greater impact than they would if made in the south.
“Any reduction will greatly impact our ability to recruit doctors in the North,” he said. “In southern Ontario they have a much easier time attracting doctors and other health professionals. Over that two-year period that the residents work in the North they become more familiar with the North and are more likely to decide to settle down here to practice.”
The province is defending its decision to cut the 50 positions, however. “Ontario has nearly doubled the number of first-year medical residency spots since 2004 to about 1,200 a year, and is now scaling back to make better use of scarce health care dollars,” said Ontario Health Minister Dr. Eric Hoskins. “We’re going to be working with our medical schools and our universities, with the OMA and other stakeholders, to look at a modest reduction from that 1,200 number, but we’ll still have more residency spots than there are Ontario graduates in any particular year,” he said. “We’re still going to be licencing about 700 doctors each and every year in Ontario.”
The Ontario Medical Association also complained it wasn’t consulted about the residency cuts and said there are still 800,000 people in the province who do not have a family physician.
“Cuts to medical school enrolment and training positions in the 1990s led to doctor shortages and longer wait times,” suggested OMA president Dr. Mike Toth, adding that the cuts were “irresponsible, unacceptable and short-sighted.”
Minister Hoskins, on the other hand, asserted that it is unfair to link reductions in residency spaces to people who do not have a family doctor, pointing out that the reductions may well come in areas of specialization where there are already too many doctors practicing and that family medicine positions may well be increased through the consultations.
The official opposition Progressive Conservatives were undaunted, however, suggesting that the cuts will lead to more people utilizing walk-in clinics and emergency rooms and inducing a concurrent rise in health costs.