We asked you about your difficulties in finding a doctor. Here’s what you told us
According to a recent report, more than two million Ontarians do not have a family doctor, and some are telling CBC Toronto they will go to drastic lengths to seek solutions.
Although all levels of government have recognized lack of access to a GP as a problem, the numbers collected by the research group INSPIRE-Primary Health Care show just how big the problem really is.
Dozens of patients and their families have reached out to CBC News to share their stories of their primary care quest in response to our survey. Here are some of them.
In his 80s without a family doctor
Hugh Greenwood says he never imagined he would be in his 80s without access to a GP.
But in July, his doctor announced he was closing his practice.
“For the first time in our 80 years, my wife and I are both without a family doctor,” Greenwood said.
He says he called the doctors’ offices in Owen Sound, Ontario. where he lives and surrounding communities, but he’s getting nowhere.
“We feel like we’ve been let down by Ontario’s healthcare system,” he said. “We are retired and have no … medical care”
Greenwood says there are some outpatient clinics, but he doesn’t like that they don’t have his full medical history.
With prescriptions running out, he wishes he had a doctor to turn to.
Cancer, stroke survivors have to drive for hours
Gail Cunningham, a cancer survivor, and her husband, who suffered a stroke earlier in the pandemic, have family doctors who love them.
The problem? They are now two to three hours away.
After a stroke that affected her husband’s mobility, the couple moved into their cottage near Lakefield, Ontario, a bungalow with no stairs, Cunningham says.
As the couple’s only driver, she says the more than four-hour round trip to Newmarket or Vaughan, where her current doctors are, leaves her exhausted.
“It takes a lot of perseverance, a lot of energy. And I’m just done when I get home,” she said.
At times, the household has used phone appointments to avoid the trip, but worries that not all components of an investigation are complete.
Trying to switch to a doctor closer to the new place of residence has proven impossible. Doctors in her area have waiting lists, she says. And she says the province won’t allow her to use its Health Care Connect tool to find a doctor because she already has one.
Interrupting care is not an option given the household’s health concerns, she says.
“We’re trapped,” she said. “It’s terrible.”
“We are not accepting new patients”
Long car rides are something Deb Kelly is considering for her family.
The Kingston, Ont. Mom and double cancer survivor says her GP took early retirement this fall.
Kelly has called many doctors in the area but keeps hearing voicemails that say, “We’re not accepting new patients.”
She has added her family to Health Care Connect but has not heard anything and is increasingly concerned. She recently went so far as to ask a relative if her doctor, who is more than four hours away, might be taking patients.
“It would be better to have a doctor four or five hours away than none at all,” she said.
She says preventive medicine and continuity of care have become increasingly important given her history of cancer and a family history of heart disease, making walk-in clinics a poor option, she says.
Find a “good fit”.
Difficulty finding basic services also plagues the province’s major urban centers.
Alia Torres returned to live in Canada after a four-year absence. She was disappointed to find that her nurse, who she says was a perfect match for her, had left his practice.
“He made me feel really comfortable. He listened to my concerns,” she said.
Now Torres is on the hunt for a new family doctor, but recommendations from friends have led to disappointment as doctors say they aren’t accepting new patients, she says.
Though she’s heard about the Health Care Connect service, she says getting “the right fit” is important to her, and worries about speaking to a doctor who she doesn’t feel comfortable with after a number of negative experiences.
Torres has put himself on a Toronto doctor’s waiting list.
“It’s kind of ironic that I’ve spent so much time singing the praises of Canada’s healthcare system,” she said.
“I’ve been telling all my friends over and over how great healthcare is in Canada… and now I can’t even find a doctor.”
“All hands on deck,” says Province
Hannah Jensen, a spokeswoman for the Ontario Department of Health, told CBC News in a statement, “We are taking a comprehensive approach to expanding our province’s health workforce so that Ontario residents across the province have access to more services of their community, shorter waiting times and better access to quality care.”
She says the government has hired 60,000 new nurses since 2018 and 8,000 new doctors have registered to work in the province.
She encouraged people to use the Health Care Connect service or the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario’s Find a Doctor search.
Natalie Mehra, executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition, an advocacy group, says the province’s Health Care Connect program is “not working at all.”
“In the areas where it’s difficult to find a GP, we hear people just never get an answer,” she said. People log in and “nothing happens”.
The coalition has been able to help people find basic supplies themselves, but in some regions they have nowhere to suggest people turn. Mehra says that will only change if the province hires more health workers and provides more support to community clinics, among other things
And while most Ontarians who want one have a GP, for those who don’t have one, the situation is “really terrible,” she says.