Shortage of Doctors
by Karen Robinson
UPdate March 2000

     "People suffering from environmental illness in Canada desperately need physicians specially trained in environmental medicine to provide treatments for their illnesses," stated Judith Spence, ceo of the Environmental Illness Society of Canada (eisc). The eisc is Canada's national non-governmental stakeholder representing the needs of persons with multiple chemical sensitivity (mcs), chronic fatigue syndrome (cfs) and fibromyalgia (fm).

      Last June, MP Marlene Catterall voiced in Parliament that "every day Health Canada receives several letters from patients who are asking for help and who want assurance that serious measures will be taken with regard to the disease that is destroying their lives..."

      In Nova Scotia, patients of recently deceased Dr. Bruce Elliott are suffering a real loss because there isn't another doctor trained in environmental medicine in the province who is available to replace him. "Other trained physicians' practices are filled to overflowing already," says Karen Robinson, Treatment Committee Chair with the nsaeha. "Even before Dr. Elliott's death we had a major problem of too few specially trained doctors to serve the rapidly growing segment of the population who have mcs-cfs-fm. US studies show that 8% of the population suffer from several reactions every day. Up to 15% of Americans, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, already suffer from some degree of mcs. ÒYet,Ó says Robinson, ÒIn Canada we have less than 25 physicians trained in environmental medicine compared to 1,200 in the US."

      "A similar situation arose in Alberta when Dr. Stanfield died nearly two years ago," said Spence, "Dr. Stanfield's patients had no one else to turn to for the kind of specialised treatments they required and many have seriously deteriorated."

      The eisc has written to environmental medicine associations in Canada, the US, England and Australia seeking a replacement doctor trained in environmental medicine willing to come to Nova Scotia. "We cannot stand idly by as Dr. Elliott's patients suffer relapses and lose recoveries they have worked so hard to achieve. Therefore, we have taken this unprecedented measure to solicit a replacement specialist, on behalf of sick Nova Scotians."

      The nsaeha recently met with Nova Scotian Health Minister, Jamie Muir, to seek assistance in actively recruiting a temporary environmental health physician while a permanent replacement is found and trained. "It takes two years until a doctor can take the necessary certification courses and we cannot wait that long," says Robinson, who knows first hand that environmental illness can be controlled and reversed through timely access to specialised treatments.