October 27, 2005

Canadians: When the Bird Flu Comes, Be Nice to Your Doctor (or Die)

The Globe and Mail in Toronto points out that with a death toll that could run as high as 150 million should the avian flu mutate, Canadians are at risk. But this article isn't about the risk from the disease, it is about the risk from the Canadian healthcare system, stretched to the breaking point and peopled by those who are themselves barely able to practice now:
Health ministers across the country seem to assume that most of the aging, demoralized, burned-out nurses and doctors will, for ethical reasons alone, place their lives in jeopardy by continuing to treat patients during such a pandemic. Politicians overlook the fact that most of these health professionals lack adequate disability or life insurance and may fear infecting family members...

In the early 1990s, medical school enrolment was curtailed, with the result that, by 2000, we had 30 per cent fewer MDs per capita than did many European countries. Canada now ranks 16 out of 23 major countries in terms of physicians per capita. Compounding the problem is the fact that, in 2004, 27 per cent of MDs were between 50 and 59, and 17 per cent were over 60. The average age of a GP in Ontario is now 51. According to Canadian Medical Association president Ruth Collins-Nakai, 3,800 doctors are expected to retire within the next two years ... Many of these doctors, like their patients, may have developed chronic disorders such as diabetes, heart disease or malignancies -- all of which make it difficult or impossible to purchase adequate disability or life insurance. Even if they are healthy, they must wait 30 to 90 days before qualifying for benefits, and many additional weeks before actually receiving payment.

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