03/09/2017 05:33 EST | Updated 03/09/2017 05:33 EST

A Wave Of Change In Ontario Health Care

Dan Dalton via Getty Images

This week Ottawa was hit by an event Ontario's doctors are warning we'll be seeing more and more often in our future: hospitals are overrun with patients sick with the flu, hitting up to 120% overcapacity.

The sad truth underlying that is the fact that hospitals are routinely running too close to maximum capacity much of the time, so an outbreak can easily send them over the edge. Worse is the fact that the we are on the verge of a grey tsunami, as our population ages and threatens to destroy our struggling health care system. Hospitals in large cities face additional pressure as they are both referrals centres that receive patients from the periphery and are hammered by increasing urban populations locally.

I can guarantee you that every hospital that has faced an overcapacity crunch has at least a few and probably a large number of doctors that are actively worried about what the future holds for their institution and their community. We face a patient population whose needs will only increase as the government chooses instead to cut and mismanage front line services like medicine and nursing.

Physicians have been warning about bed crises and the overloaded health care system for years. Unfortunately, the government is more interested in blaming doctors for providing too many services than it is engaging us in solving problems like chronic hospital bed shortages.

But while in the recent past, those worried doctors were easier to ignore or dismiss, in the past few years we've hearing doctors speaks out in loud and more organized voices. We witnessed a watershed moment in medical politics March 7, when the OMA announced the results of 2017's Council elections.

A large number of old guard incumbents lost their seats to newly engaged grassroots advocates and doctors voted in record numbers. This election is a clear call for invigoration of the OMA, who's questionable actions in the recent past have frustrated its members. This is a united voice calling for reform, and sending a message to the government that we need to have our concerns about health care addressed and responded to.

Over the past 3 years that physicians have gone without a contract, disparate voices have been coming together via social media to share ideas, frustrations and plans for fixing Ontario's broken health care system. Unfortunately grassroots advocates soon learned that the slow-moving and inward-looking OMA wasn't too interested in listening to them. Soon they were moving ahead their own actions, like public rallies and a live map of clinics closed due to unilateral government cuts.

As grassroots voices grew louder and more organized, the old guard in both the OMA and the government did what the old guard always does: dismiss, deny and discredit. They told anyone who would listen that the grassroots movement represented just a fringe group of doctors with radical views not worth listening to and that the majority of moderate physicians don't agree with. With this recent election we can finally put the lie to the fantasy of a so-called "moderate" majority that wants to uphold the status quo. This is actually the second such massive sea change vote in the past 6 months, the first being the large majority that rejected the proposed contract the OMA pushed extremely hard for.

"The government can no longer cling to the falsehood that loud, angry doctors are just tiny splinter group, trying to whip up trouble in name of a bigger pay cheque."

So this is my question: can we stop calling grassroots physician advocacy a "fringe" movement now? Seriously, how many big democratic wins does a movement need before you can actually admit that it represents a majority viewpoint?

The government can no longer cling to the falsehood that loud, angry doctors are just tiny splinter group, trying to whip up trouble in name of a bigger pay cheque. The majority of doctors are unhappy with this government and unhappy with the direction of health care. If two critical votes with large voter turnout can't convince you that doctors are pushing for health care reform, then you are relying on alternative facts to bolster your misconception.

As we head into another round of contract negotiations with a recalcitrant government, I would hope our health minister is now listening to what physician advocates have been saying for the past few years. Contrary to another misconception, this is not just about physician pay. Doctors have been clamoring for a greater role in health care governance and organization, where we can use our front line knowledge and experience to try to fix problems like chronic hospital bed shortages and a single flu outbreak bringing a hospital to its knees.

If the government will stop maligning us for daring to oppose a hard cap to the physician services budget, maybe they can partner with us to improve the system for everyone. The grey tsunami is just around the corner, doctors can see it coming and have turned out in record numbers to demand change, will the government listen?

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