Kamloops woman among almost a million people in B.C. without a family doctor | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Kamloops woman among almost a million people in B.C. without a family doctor

Image Credit: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/ Bart Everson

A Kamloops woman who found herself without a family doctor after hers left the practice four years ago hasn’t been able to get another one since then, and she is not alone.

Almost one million British Columbians currently don’t have, and can’t get, a family doctor, while 40% of those who have a doctor are worried they will lose them to practice closure or retirement, according to a recent  release by the B.C. College of Family Physicians.

Like so many others, Julie Fowler is on a waiting list for a family doctor in her community, forced to go to walk-in clinics or overwhelmed emergency rooms for basic care, putting increased pressure on medical professionals and health resources, and costing her stress, time and money. 

“I have major health problems and have to go to urgent care at the hospital when I need a doctor,” she said. “I get up early and start phoning over and over, and no one answers. By 10:30 all the spots are filled. It is frustrating spending your whole day trying to get an appointment.”

Two-thirds of British Columbians without a family doctor said they can’t find one as the reason, while 19 per cent said they don’t have a family doctor because their former doctor closed their practice, according to B.C. College of Family Physicians.

Fowler said using a community hospital for basic surgeries and care is not a reasonable solution.

“They don’t have time for extra patients in the emergency department,” she said. “There are people lined up everywhere, medical staff is treating people sitting in their chairs in the waiting room. Even when you do get to be seen it is rushed. I’ve spent hours in that waiting room.”

READ MORE: Patients observe chaos inside the emergency department at Royal Inland Hospital

Fowler said while she doesn’t typically access walk-in centres, the nightmare is the same. A patient can take all day making phone calls or standing in a line hoping for a chance to get care.

“There will be people who get very sick and die because they can’t get helped in time,” she said. “There are people on disability and seniors who are really going to suffer the most without regular family doctors.”

Those without family doctors can get help and information by calling HealthLink B.C. and, as the case is for many, be put on a waiting list for a doctor in their community. 

Fowler said she has been on the list since losing her family doctor.

“They will put you in touch with the next available doctor,” she said. “They don’t update you or anything, you just sit on the list. Most people on this list will be dead before they get a doctor. I know a lot of people who have sat on this list for years.”

READ MORE: Kamloops mother, baby sent to Kelowna after closure of pediatric ward at Royal Inland Hospital

Fowler is on disability and cannot afford to access private care options. She recently drove to the hospital in Salmon Arm for care, 110 km away, absorbing the cost of the gas.

“The hospital there is smaller and the staff are not as rushed,” she said. “I’ve had operations and been sent out of town before for surgeries where I get better care and the nurses are not as stressed.”

B.C.’s family doctors play a central role in the early identification of disease, improved management of chronic and complex illness and helping people stay well. Evidence shows that a higher supply of family physicians is correlated with better health outcomes.

“Family medicine is in a state of crisis,” said David May, president of the B.C. College of Family Physicians in the release. “Family doctors are leaving their practices and new doctors aren’t entering comprehensive family medicine.

“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.”

To contact a reporter for this story, email Shannon Ainslie or call 250-819-6089 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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