Legault threatens legislation to force family doctors to take on more patients
QUEBEC CITY -- Premier François Legault is threatening short-term legislation to force family doctors to take on more patients.
In his inaugural speech on Tuesday, he said he was getting impatient and on Wednesday, in a press scrum, he went further to say that legislation would soon be considered if doctors do not comply quickly.
With only a few months to go before the election, the Legault government and the Fédération des médecins omnipraticiens (FMOQ), which refuses to take the hard way, are set to engage in an arm wrestling match.
This is not the first time that the tone has been raised and that Premier Legault has threatened to brandish the legislative stick if doctors do not submit to Quebec's ultimatum, except that now, time time is running out, as the government is in the last year of its mandate, while the situation has continued to deteriorate.
In 2018, Legault's Coalition avenir Québec (CAQ) had pledged to provide a family doctor to all Quebecers by the end of the mandate. At the time, there were 400,000 patients on the waiting list. Now, there are twice as many, more than 800,000, making the promise difficult -- if not impossible -- to keep by October 2022.
To hopefully reverse this trend, the premier said he is prepared to go "as far as a bill."
The fewer patients who have a family doctor, the more crowded hospital emergency rooms and walk-in clinics become.
In the past, however, wielding the stick rather than the carrot in front of doctors has yielded few results other than mutual distrust and a growing climate of tension between Quebec and the medical profession. Former health minister Gaétan Barrette had adopted Bill 20 in 2015, providing for financial penalties to be imposed on physicians who did not meet the government's productivity targets.
To explain the constant increase in the number of patients without a doctor, the FMOQ defended itself by arguing that there is a shortage of about 1,000 family physicians in Quebec, that general practitioners are required to work in CHSLDs and hospitals, which reduces their availability in the office, and that retirements are increasing.
The federation added that it is not true that physicians have a low productivity rate, when, on average, they work about 45 hours a week.
Family physicians take between 1,000 and 2,000 patients under their wing. However, having your name on a doctor's patient list does not automatically guarantee access to care or an appointment at the desired time.
At the same time, the government wants to impose a change in the way doctors are compensated in the near future, whereby fee-for-service payment would be replaced, in part, by the number of patients on their list. Quebec believes this could also help facilitate access to a family doctor.
-- This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on Oct. 20, 2021.