Canadians’ access to accurate medical testing is threatened by a serious nation-wide shortage of general medical laboratory technologists. A report released today by the Canadian Society for Medical Laboratory Science (CSMLS) estimates that 44.4 per cent of general medical laboratory technologists in Canada will be eligible to retire by the year 2015. Medical laboratory technologists are Canada’s third largest group of health care professionals. They conduct sophisticated medical tests on blood, body fluids and tissue. Test results are used by physicians to evaluate and make informed decisions about the patient’s health and appropriate treatment, and to further advances in medical research.
The report, Medical Laboratory Technologists National Human Resources Review - A Call for Action, urges federal and provincial governments to take immediate steps to rebuild the education system for general medical laboratory technologists in Canada. "This crisis did not happen overnight," says CSMLS executive director Kurt Davis. According to a report published by the Canadian Institute for Health Information, the process of health reform over the past 10 years reduced Canada’s medical laboratory technologist workforce by 29 per cent. At the same time, training programs for general medical laboratory technologists were either eliminated or downsized.
"Cutbacks to training programs for general medical laboratory technologists were extremely short-sighted. They were made without consideration of factors such as the aging of the medical laboratory workforce or the increased demand for medical testing created by Canada’s aging population," says Mr. Davis. "We have now reached a critical point whereby we will not be able to produce enough new graduates to replace those who will retire over the next 15 years."
CSMLS estimates that an additional 595 training positions will be needed by 2005; 2450 new positions will be needed by 2015. "This may not be the worse case scenario," says Davis. The report did not take into consideration several other factors that may increase demand on the profession including:
- an aging population will increase demand for medical testing
- burn out and fatigue may accelerate retirement plans
- the impact of a "brain drain" as the shortage grows in the United States
The risk of a severe shortage is greatest in Nova Scotia and Manitoba as neither province has a training program for medical laboratory technologists. The report urges the governments of those provinces to take immediate steps to establish a training program. Other recommendations include:
- A significant increase in the number of training positions in Ontario, British Columbia and Saskatchewan.
- Careful monitoring of the human resource supply in Alberta, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Quebec. Adjustments in the number of training programs will likely be required due to the increased demand for medical testing by an aging population.
- That Prince Edward Island negotiate with training programs in Newfoundland and New Brunswick to provide additional positions for PEI students.
Reports from other countries, such as Britain and the United States, indicate that the shortage of general medical laboratory technologists is a global problem. Canada will have to find its own made-at-home solution. CSMLS is urging the Advisory Committee on Health Human Resources (ACHHR)– an interprovincial committee comprised of deputy ministers of health or their designates–to take immediate action on three recommendations contained in a report published in May 1999 entitled An environmental scan of the human resource issues affecting medical laboratory technologists and medical radiation technologists. They include:
- establishment of a national data base to identify the scope of the problem and define the short and long term needs
- co-ordination and sharing of labour market information to help determine accurate projections at least three to five years in advance
- co-ordination and sharing of educational program information to ensure that a sufficient number of positions are available to train future medical laboratory technologists
CSMLS also supports the Canadian Healthcare Association’s recommendation that the federal government establish a $250 million fund to educate, train, recruit and retain health care professionals of all disciplines.