The Yukon needs doctors

The Yukon needs doctors Open letter to Doug Graham, minister, Health and Social Services: We recently spoke about the impending exodus of a number of medical practitioners in the Yukon. As it stands, the medical clinic in Watson Lake has announced it is

The Yukon needs doctors

Open letter to Doug Graham, minister, Health and Social Services:

We recently spoke about the impending exodus of a number of medical practitioners in the Yukon. As it stands, the medical clinic in Watson Lake has announced it is closing, and there are approximately six Whitehorse doctors who are retiring or leaving their practice.

Patients are concerned about losing their family doctor. They are very concerned that, without quick action by your department, they face daunting challenges in managing their health care. You indicated that work was underway to recruit replacement doctors, and I was pleased to hear it.

My office has received copies of letters sent to you asking that you take action with respect to approval of a doctor currently practising in Manitoba who is prepared to take over one Yukon doctor’s practice. My understanding is that although this physician has been working as a hospitalist (a medical practitioner specialist position) for eight years in Manitoba, she is not allowed to work in the Yukon because she does not hold a certificate of fellowship from the Canadian College of Family Physicians.

Until recently, doctors wishing to practise medicine in Yukon who had received their training outside Canada were allowed to practise subject to the condition that they completed the exams for the Canadian College of Family Physicians. These exams are only held once a year.

The Department of Health and Social Services is responsible for recruiting and retaining physicians, and the Yukon Medical Council is responsible for licensing physicians. This partnership is important to Yukoners’ health care.

The Yukon Medical Council website describes the circumstances under which a doctor may be allowed to practise with a Limited (Family Practice/Specialist) licence. One of the criteria is that the minister must have “determined that there is a demonstrated need for Limited Licensed physicians.” Surprisingly, the next statement is: “There is currently no demonstrated need in Yukon at this time.” This certainly flies in the face of the lived experience of many Yukoners who have been told they will no longer have a family physician within a few weeks or months. They certainly have a legitimate interest in physician recruitment.

Who is responsible for determining a “demonstrated need” for physicians, and what data is used to make the calculation? Does this assessment take into consideration the current percentage of the Yukon’s population with no family physician as well as information on how that percentage is projected to change over the next few months of anticipated physician turnover?

Recruiting and retaining health professionals is a challenge in many jurisdictions. An update of the Yukon’s strategy with respect to physician recruitment would be appreciated. I look forward to a continued dialogue about moving the system towards more patient-centered care.

Liz Hanson

Leader, Yukon NDP official Opposition