Michelle Wandler has been without a family doctor for nearly five years now.
“I had two family doctors over the past 10 years,” she said. “They both retired. The practices were closed down and no one replaced them.”
Her situation an all too familiar one in the province as thousands struggle to find a family doctor. ‘
“The stats show that about 750,000 British Columbians do not have a family physician,” said Dr. Toye Oyelese, a West Kelowna family doctor and the current president of B.C. Family Docs.
“We feel that it’s probably a little higher than that given the attrition that we’ve seen lately, and the numbers could be as high as 900,000.”
As a result, B.C. Family Docs, the organization that acts as the voice for family physicians, is launching an awareness campaign called ‘Everyone Deserves a Family Doctor.’
“Hopefully we can engage the public, we’re going to engage the government, we can engage anybody who’s interested.” Oyelese told Global News.
Oyelese said the campaign will focus on constructive discussions to come up with solutions so that fewer people are relying on walk-in clinics and emergency care for medical attention.
“The interesting thing is we actually do have a lot of family physicians in B.C.,” Oyelese said. “There’s about 6,800 family physicians doing various duties within the healthcare system.
“We only have about 3,100 family physicians engaged in what we call longitudinal family practice.”
Those other duties include working in hospitals, palliative care and addictions medicine.
According to B.C. Family Docs, there’s also about 150 family physicians who graduate from residency programs every year.
“So the real question is and what we’re puzzled about is given all those numbers, how come you know people are not staying, not choosing to practice as a family physician,” he said.
Oyelese said the issue of costly barriers to running a family practice is what prompts many family physicians to work in other areas of health care, because family physicians are the ones solely responsible for covering all overhead and infrastructure costs.
“It’s very similar to having firefighters have to pay for the fire hall and equipment,” he said. “Family physicians have to pay for those infrastructures, these new changes in technology without any kind of assistance.”
In an email to Global News, the Ministry of Health stated it hopes to have more to announce soon on its response to what it calls these significant capacity challenges. That includes a number of recruitment initiatives to bolster the supply of family doctors.
But Oyelese said it isn’t so much about recruitment but moreso about reducing those costly barriers to running a family practice that will make the big difference.
“What I really want the public to understand is that clinics like these are critical infrastructure but completely unsupported by the government and people really need to understand it’s like the firefighters paying for the fire halls and equipment out of money they make fighting fires,” Oyelese said.
“If there are enough fires, they exhausted but unless they have money to pay for the fire halls , if there are no fires, they still have to pay for the fire halls. The cost of infrastructure doesn’t change.”
He believes some government assistance with infrastructure costs would increase the number of doctors in traditional family practices, reducing the significant list of people without a family doctor.
That includes Michelle Wandler, who, after five years, is desperately hoping to secure a family doctor once and for all.
“I want to live a long healthy life and I want to make sure that I take care of myself,” she said.