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Newcomer cant find family doctor

Physicians not taking new patients
Laura Walz

Newcomers to Powell River are having difficulty finding a family doctor as physicians in the community are not accepting new patients.

George Roberts, a senior citizen, recently moved to Powell River from Victoria. His doctor there referred him to a doctor in Powell River and gave him his medical records on a compact  disc. When Roberts contacted the doctor, he found out the physician was not taking new patients, nor were any other doctors in the clinic.

“I don’t know how to break into the system,” Roberts said.

He moved to Powell River because he found an apartment that was more affordable, Roberts said, and it had a bus stop right in front of the building. He also has friends in the community and is interested in music. He has already joined Powell River Academy of Music’s Chor Musica Men’s Choir.

Roberts has some medical issues, including an irregular heartbeat for which he takes a medication that thins his blood. He needs to have regular readings of his blood. He also has prostate cancer, which is under control with medication, but he needs regular checkups. His prescriptions need renewing.

When he was making plans to move to Powell River, he didn’t think finding a family doctor would be a problem, because of his doctor’s referral. “I shoved it to the back of my mind,” he said. “I’m optimistic. I have faith that things will be all right.”

Dr. Chris Morwood, president of the medical staff at Powell River General Hospital, said there is currently a nationwide shortage of family physicians in Canada. The problem is even more acute in rural areas, he added. “This is a major concern since not having a consistent family doctor results in poorer health outcomes and much higher system cost,” he said. “A number of provincial initiatives are underway to address this, including a doubling of medical school enrolment in the past 10 years, more international medical graduates, new initiatives for nurse practitioners and pilot projects in various communities to improve patient and general practitioner (GP) ‘attachment.’”

Powell River has more physicians per capita than many rural communities, but best estimates are that the community is still short at least one to two full-time general practitioners, Morwood added. “To my knowledge no GP is currently accepting new patients, aside from first degree relatives of those already in our practices. Our local Division of Family Practice, a non-profit organization, has a new project underway to recruit more permanent and locum physicians to the community.”

Until there are more physicians, it is reasonable for people without a family doctor to go to the emergency room at the hospital for care, though they may have to wait while more urgent cases are seen first, Morwood said.

Anna Marie D’Angelo, Vancouver Coastal Health’s senior public affairs officer, said Powell River doesn’t have a shortage of doctors, but there are other circumstances that affect the situation. Two GPs are retiring, she said, but they’re still working. Two are on maternity leave and two are coming back from maternity leave. “There is a capacity gap,” she said. “This gentleman is probably getting frustrated because of this and there are other people too looking for doctors.”

In Powell River, there is no walk-in clinic, so residents either go to their family doctor or to the emergency room. “The emergency department is not seeing any increase in the number of people who come in there because they can’t go to a GP or their GP is too busy,” D’Angelo said. “They usually get about a dozen a day and that’s fine.”

VCH is not actively recruiting doctors for the community, D’Angelo said. “In the past, there has been a shortage and we did recruit several doctors through a provincial program that we administered.”

The name of the initiative was the Family Practice for BC program, which was designed to attract doctors to rural areas of the province. “Powell River was very attractive,” D’Angelo said. “It did quite well.” She added that three or four doctors came to the community as a result of the program.