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Northern doctor calls for changes to improve health care in the north

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A northern Ontario doctor is making recommendations to the Ontario government when it comes to improving health care in the north.

 Dr. Stephen Cooper was among representatives from the Ontario Medical Association who made a presentation Tuesday as part of the government’s pre-budget consultations.

Cooper, a family doctor, said when it comes to health care, there’s always more work to do.

“Lots of work to do, yes,” he said.

“Patients are waiting and they don't want to wait any longer."

Cooper was one of two northern Ontario doctors representing the OMA who made a presentation to the province’s standing committee on finance and economic affairs as part of Tuesday's pre-budget consultations to improve northern Ontario health care.

“I’d like to think they’re listening to the OMA and to myself,” Cooper said.

“But I think they’re listening to their constituents that are saying they need to move forward on this. It’s patients that are making the loudest voice.”

The OMA is making three recommendations, including that the province license more foreign-trained physicians by creating a practice-ready assessment program to get internationally trained doctors to underserved northern communities

The OMA also wants to create a centralized wait list for procedures with a referral and triage management system for surgeries, and allow diagnostic services and equipment to be provided to long-term care homes to alleviate pressure on hospitals.

“It’s about helping the system,” Cooper said.

“I think we’re trying to get away from just going to hospitals. It’s about alleviating the wait time for primary care, community specialists, or home care and hospitals.”

Cooper said last year, northern Ontario experienced a shortfall of 325 family doctors, psychiatrists, pediatricians and other health care specialists and only expects that number to worsen if action isn’t taken.

“This year, we’re seeing 350,” he said.

“So it’s a worrying trend in the wrong direction despite the fact the ministry has put a lot of good problems in.”

North Bay Mayor Peter Chirico said the city has had some successes.

"There's the doctor attraction program that the city participates in with the regional hospital and that has been very successful,” Chirico said.

“We continue to lobby the government." 

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