updated 8/19/2004 10:58:52 AM ET 2004-08-19T14:58:52

An association of Canadian doctors is urging the government to provide $1 billion Canadian (U.S. $765 million) to help combat a national shortage of health care workers.

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At its annual meeting in Toronto on Tuesday, the Canadian Medical Association said health-reform experts have identified shortfalls among all types of physicians, nurses and technicians as a major obstacle to reducing long waiting lists for procedures that include joint replacement, heart bypass and cancer care.

A report by the association analyzing the shortfall shows Canada has 2.1 physicians per 1,000 residents, ranking it 25th out of 30 countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, a forum that assesses economic and social policy.

The medical association wants Canada's government to provide $1 billion Canadian (U.S. $765 million) over five years for a national Health Human Resources Reinvestment Fund to increase the number of openings for medical students and postgraduate training positions, while fast-tracking residencies for medical graduates from other countries and establishing a program to recruit and retain health care professionals.

The fund would also be used to set up an institute to map out the number of doctors, nurses and other care providers that will be needed in the future.

Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh has said the resource issue will be a key item on the agenda when provincial premiers meet with Prime Minister Paul Martin on Sept. 13 to discuss health care.

"Health reform is meaningless unless we ensure an adequate supply of doctors and nurses with the infrastructure and tools that they need to attend to their patients," said Dr. Sunil Patel, president of the 58,000-member association.

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