Saudi medical exodus much worse than first announced – The London Free Press

The impact of Canada’s diplomatic spat with Saudi Arabia will be even worse than first anticipated at the London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC).

Western University said this week that 54 medical trainees are among the Saudi students ordered to leave by their government in reaction to Canadian government demands for the release of human rights activists.

But on Friday the head of the LHSC said the actual number is 91, including 35 residents and 56 medical fellows, all from the Shulich School of Medicine at Western.

Chief executive Paul Woods said the 91 residents make up about 10 per cent of the medical residents and fellows at LHSC and they all have to be out the door by Aug. 31.

But Woods said they are not evenly distributed, with some departments almost unscathed and others losing almost half of their staff.

Woods is still confident there will be minimal impact on LHSC patients.

“Health care has a history of rising to the occasion but the problem is the sustainability of everyone working 10 per cent harder and in some programs, 50 per cent harder. It’s not going to be a great long-term solution.”

Woods, who took over the CEO job in January, said he could not immediately identify which departments will feel the biggest losses.

Medical residents are involved in primary patient care, while fellows are advanced trainees pursuing specialties and research along with patient care.


He said the loss of the Saudis will also disrupt LHSC research programs.

“The work will be ongoing, but there’s no question losing the expertise and personnel could slow down the research.”

Woods said the earlier lower estimate of 54 medical trainees was due to a “counting methodology” that has been revised.

The forced withdrawal of the Saudi trainees will also have a financial impact because of the loss of funding from the Saudi government that supports them. They are obligated to return to their homeland when their Canadian training is finished.

Woods said the Schulich School would face the direct financial impact because it receives the tuition money.

Because of the loss of funding, Woods said the LHSC will not be able to immediately replace the Saudi trainees.

“I don’t believe there is any funding to support another 91 positions. I don’t see that happening,” said Woods.

He said the LHSC administrators are working on plans to deal with the loss of the Saudi student, but it will take some time.

He said there have been consultations with provincial and federal health officials but there is no indication yet of any government help or compensatory funding.

The doctors-in-training, among 800 nationwide yanked back by the Saudis, are part of a group of students from the desert kingdom studying in Canada, about 18,000 in all, whose education here has been abruptly halted in the fallout of the diplomatic standoff.

The oil-rich Persian Gulf nation has also slapped a freeze on new business with Canada, expelled our ambassador and taken other measures to punish Canada, with at least one report saying it has ordered state-owned pension funds and banks to sell off Canadian assets.

There are also fears the Saudis would cancel a $15 billion contract to have London’s General Dynamics Land Systems plant supply light-armoured vehicles.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has indicated that his government will not back down or apologize for demanding the release of human rights activists Raif and Samar Badawi.