Wednesday April 16, 2014

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Doctor shortage reaching critical mass

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There is a growing crisis on the Sunshine Coast, one that doesnít have a quick fix to make it all better.

Finding a family doctor is getting harder and harder. The recent retirement of Dr. John Farrer and Dr. Nick Sparrow leaving his practice in the summer to pursue other avenues in the medical field have left things even more challenging for the Coastís medical community.

The Coastís medical director, Dr. Edward Berinstein, estimates the Sunshine Coast is short as many as five physicians. Full-time doctors are currently looking after about 1,400 patients each, leaving potentially 7,000 residents on the Coast without a doctor.

When these people get sick, they have two options ó go to a walk-in clinic or go to emergency at St. Maryís Hospital. Thereís just one problem ó the Sechelt walk-in clinic recently had no choice but to close its doors because there were just not enough resources available to keep it open. And the emergency room is already over-crowded too, so you have a system that is failing.

But itís not failing because of the current staff. Doctors here on the Coast are doing the best job they can. Sunshine Coast doctors are independent contractors, apart from Vancouver Coastal Health, but they need to cover the emergency room at the hospital and must take care of the patients admitted there. That means, in general, taking turns doing seven to 12-hour shifts in emergency, making for very long days when you factor in that each doctor must also take care of his or her own individual practices.

The medical community on the Coast is searching for answers, as is VCH. They are both doing everything they can to attract more doctors to the Coast. St. Maryís Hospital Foundation leased a home to provide housing for physicians looking to open up a practice on the Coast this summer. Since that home was opened, it has been used a total of 178 days. So far no one has decided to stay permanently on the Coast, but there is hope that some will change their minds.

And we are not alone in the doctor shortage. Powell River is experiencing the same problems ó not enough doctors and too many patients seeking medical care. The system is over-taxed, and itís a situation that is only going to get worse unless something is done now.

The province is developing a recruitment and incentive program to bring more doctors to rural communities, which is a great start, but more is clearly needed.

Just what more can be done, we donít have all the answers for, but this is a crisis that needs to be addressed now.

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