How would you choose to pay the people entrusted with fire prevention and control in your community? One would hope that, whatever the method, it provided those with the appropriate knowledge and skill the freedom to operate without interference in the interests of those in need.

Imagine a world where fire fighters were directed in their efforts by a pre-determined public policy edict that required them to stop their efforts after some defined time limit, regardless of the condition of the building or its inhabitants.

Sounds absurd, but this is exactly analogous to the concerns raised in an article that appeared in the Globe and Mail April 6th, “In Ontario, a battle for the soul of psychiatry” (https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-in-ontario-a-battle-for-the-soul-of-psychiatry/).

In it, Dr. Norman Doidge describes his frustrations with a payment system that limits the number of encounters he can provide a patient.

While agreeing wholeheartedly with the arguments raised by Dr. Doidge, I would respectfully submit that the battle goes far beyond the practice of psychiatry. The concept that decisions about the nature and duration of any patient’s condition can or should be made on the basis of fiscal concerns and by individuals or groups under governmental influence should be seen by all physicians and their patients as repugnant. While government certainly has a responsibility to exercise fiscal oversight, it is (to use a contemporary metaphor) venturing far outside “its own lane”. Patients are individuals with unique illness experiences that cannot be conveniently categorized into tidy management algorithms. Doctors, of any specialty, must be free to undertake treatment for patients based on individual needs.

Doctors, in turn, must earn and safeguard that right. Our professional organizations should rise to the challenge posed by Dr. Doidge’s article with the same vigour that they have engaged issues of reimbursement, and the distribution of a few percentage points of income. Providing optimal patient care must trump income issues. Failure to do so rightfully condemns.

The profession and government should jointly recognize that the “covenant” between the government and people of Canada to provide universal, comprehensive health care is being broken daily, suffering death from a thousand cuts. Only with collective and collaborative recognition of that reality and engagement by a profession and government mutually focused on the interests of the people of Ontario can solutions even begin.

The fire fighters battling to save Notre Dame cathedral in Paris this past week didn’t stop their efforts until they had done everything possible. Those men and women were in a position of public trust that was not defined by the clock or budgets. Doctors are in a similar position of public trust which must be defended. I suspect Dr. Doidge will continue to care for his patient, but it will be despite and not because of our “system”. Our patients deserve better. We all deserve better.

(Portions of this article were published in the Globe and Mail April 9, 2019 as a letter to the editor)