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40% of British Columbians afraid of losing their family doctor, poll finds

Click to play video: 'New poll shows many British Columbians worry about losing family doctor' New poll shows many British Columbians worry about losing family doctor
A research poll conducted on behalf of the BC College of Family Physicians shows 40 per cent of British Columbians who have a family doctor are worried their physician will close their practice or retire. Now the BCCFP is sounding the alarm on the state of family medicine in the province. – Apr 12, 2022

Forty per cent of British Columbians who have a family doctor fear they will lose that doctor to practice closure or retirement, a new survey has found.

In the midst of a provincewide doctor shortage, the BC College of Family Physicians (BCCFP) commissioned a poll of residents over the age of 18. Sixteen per cent of respondents did not have a family doctor, two-thirds of whom said they couldn’t find one, and 19 per cent of whom said their former doctor had closed their practice.

“I think those of us in family medicine in the trenches have been very aware of increasing stress over the last five years and a really huge loss of family physicians in the last two or three years,” said Dr. Marjorie Docherty, who retired from her own 40-year practice last year.

“Having a family doctor is like having a security blanket or a life jacket, it just makes you feel like there’s someone you can go to who knows your story.”

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According to the BCCFP, one million British Columbians don’t have a family doctor and can’t get one.

The survey was conducted in February by the Mustel Group across all geographic health authority areas in the province, and the sample was weighted to match Statistics Canada date on age, gender and region.

“Family medicine is in a state of crisis,” said Dr. David May, president of the BCCFP in a news release.

“Without more support from the health-care system, things will only get worse. For British Columbians to have access to the care they need and deserve, we need a plan that supports and invests in family doctors.”

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Ninety-three per cent of the BCCFP’s survey respondents said they believe it’s important to have one health professional primarily responsible for their care. Those with family doctors also reported having a better experience with the province’s health-care system.

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In its news release, the college said there is a role for family physicians in hospitals, walk-in clinics and urgent care centres, but it should not be at the expense of people being able to see a family doctor who knows them.

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Last week, the B.C. Health Department announced short-term measures to support primary care on southern Vancouver Island, an area that has been particularly hard-hit by the doctor shortage.

Those measures included $3.46 million in stabilization funding to support five walk-in clinics — enough to fund 10 full-time equivalent family physicians in all the clinics until the end of the year. Meanwhile, the province said it will continue discussions on piloting a new urban locum program to help recruit new physicians to local primary care networks.

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Camille Currie, organizer of BC Health Care Matters, said that short-term solution is “shaky at best” because the province may not be able to find doctors to fill the positions created by the new funding. The approach also increases reliance on Urgent and Primary Care Centres to meet residents’ long-term health-care needs, she added.

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“(Urgent and Primary Care Centres) were to provide primary care, which is not necessarily the same as longitudinal care,” she explained. “So few of the UPCCs have even been able to attach patients to a doctor. Many of them don’t attach any.

“There are some that get attached to nurse practitioners, and that’s all, so I don’t see UPCCs as a solution for our need for longitudinal care.”

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In its April 8 announcement, the province said it recognizes the need to support family practices in the transition toward a team-based approach to primary care.

“The ministry and Doctors of BC are in discussions about a timeline and process for addressing issues facing family practices over the next several months,” it said.

“The Province will continue working with the Doctors of BC, family physicians and other partners to keep improving primary care services for patients throughout British Columbia.”

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