Canada is experiencing a health workforce crisis. The pandemic is recognized as the breaking point for many health workers who were already in short supply. With a new federal health and associate health minister in place, the CMA remains eager to collaborate with the federal government to rapidly advance solutions and make health human resources planning a priority. The number of Canadians without access to a family physician or health care team is at a record high, causing trickle-down effects throughout the health system and hindering patients’ ability to receive timely care.
According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, in 2020 Canada saw a modest increase in the number of physicians. Although trending in the right direction, the numbers do not reflect human health resource challenges that diminish the impact of those increases. For one, Canada — with 2.7 physicians per 1,000 population — still lags behind other member countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, which enjoy 3.5 physicians per 1,000 population. Canada’s large rural areas also present an additional challenge — despite 19% of Canadians living in these areas, they are served by only 8% of physicians. These gaps signal the need for a pan-Canadian health human resource strategy.
“Addressing the health workforce crisis is going to require an all-hands-on-deck approach. We can no longer afford to approach this from different silos,” says Dr. Katharine Smart, CMA president. “Until we commit to addressing decades-old issues such as training, retaining and recruitment of physicians and health workers, the health system — which no longer serves the needs of Canadians — will continue to crumble.”
The COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating existing health care challenges, putting immense pressure on overburdened health facilities, increasing surgical backlogs and pushing health care workers to the verge of collapse. That’s why, earlier this month, the CMA and the Canadian Nurses Association hosted an emergency summit, bringing together nearly 40 national and provincial health organizations. During the meeting, health care leaders identified short and long-term actions to respond to the pandemic and ensure Canada’s health system sustainability, including taking decisive action to address staff shortages.
“We need to stop putting out fires as they happen,” says Dr. Smart. “The backbone of our health care system is made up of the people who work in it, but for many of them, this situation is untenable and unsustainable.”