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GP shortage looms in South Delta
Choosing a family doctor is an important decision for many young families, but for those moving to South Delta, there are few options available.
That’s because Ladner and Tsawwassen, like many communities across the province, are facing a shortage of general practitioners, according to Dr. Martin Ray, head of the Delta Division of Family Practice.
The grassroots physician advocacy group is made up of close to 60 local primary care doctors concerned about improving medical care here in Delta.
Day says there is an immediate need for an additional “five or six” family doctors in South Delta. However, he expects that need will only increase unless more doctors can be found to replace the current crop of aging family doctors.
With residential development plans slated for Ladner, Tsawwassen, and Tsawwassen First Nation, the influx of new residents will only create more demand for family doctors.
The Delta Division of Family Practice recently conducted a survey of its members, and found that the average family doctor in Delta has been practicing medicine for more than 20 years and is more than 50 years in age.
While the final figures aren’t in yet, Ray said as many as a third of local family doctors plan to reduce their workload or retire altogether in the next three years.
In the past three years, four family doctors have retired and closed their practice in Tsawwassen alone, said Ray.
Having a family doctor is important because they are better able to follow-up with patients than clinics, he said. They also have a better understanding of a patient’s needs.
“A GP is going to provide continuity of care, they are going to develop a personal relationship with you and your family,” said Ray. “That’s especially important when dealing with chronic illness, such as [chronic obstructive pulmonary disease] or diabetes.
“The outcomes are much better with a family doctor.”
Without a family doctor, sick people will often end up visiting an emergency room for care, which puts a strain on the healthcare system.
“ERs are very busy places, and a lot of [illnesses] are better off dealt with outside the ER,” said Ray.
The provincial government estimates close to 100,000 British Columbians are without a family doctor. The Ministry of Health has tried to address the problem by increasing medical school seats by more than double in the past 10 years, as well as launching the $133-million “A GP For Me” program earlier this year. The program aims to find a family doctor for every British Colombian by establishing more clinics, recruiting doctors, and reducing workloads.
Ray said those steps are having a positive impact, but Delta has an immediate need for doctors, and that need grows greater every day.
That’s why the Delta Division of Family Practice has recently teamed up with doctors in Surrey and Langley to launch a recruitment campaign aimed at finding suitable family doctors to work in the community.
“We are trying to be proactive,” said Ray. “We don’t want to wait until we have a problem, we want to get ahead of it.”
Jennifer Scrubb is a consultant specializing in the recruitment of physicians, and is helping coordinate the local effort to find more family doctors for Delta.
By pooling resources with nearby communities, Scrubb said Delta has a better chance of finding and retaining new doctors.
“Each community is very distinct and has different needs,” she said.
The recruitment campaign will be looking outside of the province and outside of Canada to bring family doctors to Delta, and has even produced a promotional video titled, “Join us in Delta.”
“We’re looking for people who want to practice in full service primary care… and who want to establish a life in this community,” Scrubb said. “Delta has a lot to offer.”
South Delta’s small town feel, despite being close to an urban centre, is one selling point, as are the good local schools and natural setting.
“We’re not only recruiting doctors, we’re recruiting their families,” said Scrubb. “We don’t want doctors coming here and leaving after two years because they aren’t happy.”
The recruitment strategy, which is funded by the provincial government, also includes targeting new doctors and medical students, and easing them into family practice by having them to do fill-in work for family doctors who want time off.
But while the number of medical students has increased in recent years, many young doctors are hesitant to make the commitment to family practice right out of medical school.
“It’s a huge commitment,” said Scrubb. Starting a family practice usually means the doctor will be staying put for the rest of their working life.
“Today’s new doctors are looking for a work-life balance, they want more flexibility.”
• To find a family doctor, visit the College of Physicians and Surgeons of B.C.’s website at www.cpsbc.ca.