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Family doctor shortage skyrockets during COVID-19 pandemic

The number of people in Ontario looking for family doctors has skyrocketed during the pandemic to 415,000 and new data shows those with the lowest income have been especially impacted.

The Ontario College of Family Physicians (OCFP) is calling for real change in the province after a report released by Inspire Primary Health Care showed at least 72,000 people lost their doctor between March 2020 and 2022.

In Toronto, a higher proportion of individuals with the lowest income — 120,700 in the west end, north of the city core and in Scarborough — are without a family doctor compared to higher income-earners.

Across the province, more than 2.2 million Ontarians are without a family doctor, compared to 1.8 million in 2020.

The researchers also believe these numbers are underestimated because they don’t include babies born or people who moved to the city after 2019.

Other Torontonians impacted include at least 203,000 who live in racialized neighbourhoods, 54,000 who suffer from mental illness, and 30,000 who live with diabetes.

“What’s really worrisome is these are often the most vulnerable patients who need access to a doctor,” said OCFP President Dr. Mekalai Kumanan.

“It’s an issue that I know that in my chats here with people on our team just recently … people [are] on the waiting list for years at a time, still struggling to get that physician in place.”

In order to meet the current demand, OCFP said Toronto would need at least 385 new family doctors.

The college recommends the province allow family doctors to take on more patients and see them faster by hiring more healthcare team members who can provide them with support.

In that way, doctors can increase the time spent directly with patients, unburdening them of administrative duties that take up to 19 hours a week.

“Without action, it isn’t possible to reach this target,” said Dr. Kumanan. “On top of the current shortage, many family doctors are approaching retirement. It is critical that we take action to support family doctors in practice.”



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