32,000 residents in Peterborough area without family doctor; 63K by 2026: report

Click to play video: 'Peterborough residents in need of a family doctor expected to double in next two years'
Peterborough residents in need of a family doctor expected to double in next two years
Finding a family doctor in Peterborough could soon become even more difficult. New data suggests the number of people in need in this area could soon double. Robert Lothian spoke with a family physician about the challenges in our community and the possible solutions – Feb 29, 2024

There are more than 32,000 people without a family doctor in the Peterborough area, according to an organization that represents family doctors in Ontario.

The Ontario College of Family Physicians (OCFP) said data from INSPIRE Primary Health Care shows that 32,000 could reach 63,000 by 2026 if the Ontario government doesn’t act to provide “urgent support” to family doctors and patients. The data also reports 2.3 million across Ontario are without a family doctor and that number will reach over 4.4 million in two years.

“It is clear that the profession is under enormous strain right now due to system-wide issues,” said Dr. Mekalai Kumanan, OCFP president.  “We believe it’s possible to turn this crisis around and let family doctors get back to what they most want, which is to be there for their patients. By supporting family doctors now, we can ensure that Ontarians have access to the kind of quality care they expect for years to come.”

Story continues below advertisement

The OCFP lists multiple reasons for the physician shortage including administrative burden, lack of team supports, compensation not keeping pace with inflation, retirement and a decline in the number of medical students choosing to practice family medicine.

The latest health and medical news emailed to you every Sunday.

Dr. Madura Sundareswaran, a family doctor in Peterborough, said the situation needs to change. She took over a family practice in the city in 2019.

“The Peterborough area needs family doctors and family doctors care deeply for patients, but things cannot continue as they are,” Sundareswaran said. “Every effort must be made to retain the family doctors we have now and recruit the doctors of the future.”

She says she has seen the number of patients requiring a doctor increase.

“As challenging as it is to say no, the problem is the more patients I take, the less service I’m able to give to the people who are rostered to me,” she told Global News.

In 2023, an OCFP survey over more than 1,300 family doctors showed 65 per cent plan to leave or change their practice in the next five years. Twenty per cent were staying while another 11 per cent were unsure of their future plans.

The OCFP has a list of recommendations it feels will enable residents access to a family doctor including reducing paperwork as they say doctors spend up to 19 hours a week on administrative work.

Story continues below advertisement

The OCFP said doctors need more team support to work with other healthcare professionals and doctors should receive fair compensation that keeps pace with inflation and reflects the complex care they provide.

“Family doctors, who run their clinics like a small business, are reporting that they are struggling to keep up with the costs associated with keeping their clinics open,” the OCFP said. “It is imperative that family doctors have the support they need to carry out their vital work.

In a statement to Global News, the City of Peterborough says it is working on new options to approaching physician recruitment. In a statement to Global News, the city saying in part:

“While physicians work as part of the provincial healthcare system, municipalities are increasingly put in the position of having to compete against each other to attract physicians to set up doctors’ offices in their communities.”

The city says a report will be going to council “shortly” to provide possible physician recruitment options.

Kumanan said there have been some “positive signals” from the province such as recent funding for some health teams and a commitment to address administrative burden.

“But it’s time for Ontario to act urgently and provide family doctors with the support they need to continue caring for Ontarians,” she said.

Story continues below advertisement

— with files from Robert Lothian/Global News Peterborough

Sponsored content