Canada’s Doctor Shortage

Publication, Healthcare & Welfare, Frontier Centre

Canada versus the World: Average physicians per 1,000 people

According to the latest figures from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Canada ranks 23rd out of 30 countries (tied with New Zealand) for doctors per 1,000 people. In 2005, the last year available, Canada had just 2.2 doctors per 1,000 people, barely higher than in 1990 when Canada had 2.1 physicians per 1,000 people (OECD, 2007).

In contrast, in 2005, Greece, Belgium, Switzerland, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Iceland, Denmark, the Czech Republic, Austria, France, Germany, Portugal, Sweden, the Slovak Republic, Hungary, Ireland, Australia, Luxembourg, Finland, the United States and the United Kingdom all had more physicians per 1,000 people.

The number of physicians per 1,000 in these countries was 2.4 in the United Kingdom; 3.8 in Spain, Switzerland and Italy; 4.0 in Belgium; and 4.9 in Greece. When Canadians fall ill, they should hope they are on vacation in the Swiss Alps or on a beach in Spain, Italy or Greece. The OECD average is 3.0 physicians per 1,000 people.

Canada is losing ground compared to other countries

Since 1990, 24 other countries increased their physician-people ratio by 10 per cent or more. Since 1990, the doctor-people ratio increased 16 per cent in New Zealand; 18 per cent in Japan; 20 per cent in Finland; 21 per cent in Belgium, Germany, and Portugal; 23 per cent in Australia; 24 per cent in Denmark; 27 per cent in Switzerland; and 32 per cent in Iceland. The ratio increased 40 per cent in Ireland, 48 per cent in the Netherlands, 50 per cent in the United Kingdom and 59 per cent in Austria.

In comparison, Canada’s ratio of doctors to people (2.2 per 1,000 in 2005, up from 2.1 per 1,000 in 1990) increased only 5 per cent. Besides Canada, only Hungary, Italy and Poland failed to increase their physician supply ratio by 10 per cent or more.

It should be noted that two of these countries – Hungary and Italy – already had significantly higher doctor-people ratios than Canada in 1990. Hungary’s ratio was 2.8 doctors and Italy’s was 3.8 doctors per 1,000.

The doctor shortage in Canada is but one example of a health-care system that is inadequate and in need of reform.

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