Spring usually brings its share of little joys, such as longer days, blooming trees, and the return of warm weather. This year, spring also coincides with the lifting of nearly all public health measures. For many people, this means that the pandemic is definitely behind us.
Unfortunately, the pandemic is far from over for health care workers. While high vaccination rates and a certain degree of herd immunity can be reassuring, what’s to come may be even more dire than the number of hospitalizations. Health care professionals’ burnout is not only concerning—it will also have an impact for years to come.
A situation that must be taken seriously
Preliminary data from the latest National Physician Health Survey, conducted by the Canadian Medical Association last November, revealed alarming statistics about the health status of physicians. More than half of physicians and medical learners (53%) reported high levels of burnout, up from 30% in 2017. But what I believe to be the most concerning finding is that 46% of respondents across the country are seriously considering reducing their clinical hours due to burnout.
As the Quebec government works on Bill 11 to increase the supply of primary care services by general practitioners, we can only hope that our elected officials will acknowledge our physicians’ plight, and that any ensuing government initiatives will be based on this data. Otherwise, we are merely turning a blind eye and ignoring a problem that has lingered far too long. The government’s “health care reform” plan must consider these troubling statistics and the reality in the field.
A much-needed system overhaul
The pandemic revealed the shortcomings of our health care system. It was already only hanging by a thread, and the sudden impact of the pandemic nearly pushed it to the brink of collapse. Governments were intent on avoiding this crisis at all costs, which is why we had to work together to prevent a massive influx of critically ill patients into our hospitals.
The last two years have made our system’s flaws even more obvious. On March 9, more than 40 organizations representing health care workers came together once again to call for a radical change in the way health care is provided. Time is running out, and we cannot afford to add a human resources crisis and widespread burnout to an already flawed system.
Status quo is no longer a viable option. We must absolutely find solutions to the system’s existing—and future—problems: if we don’t, we will collectively fail.
Dr. Abdo Shabah
Spokesperson and member of the Board of Directors, Canadian Medical Association
This open letter was originally published in Le Soleil.