Thousands without doctors

Until recently, Barbara Pedrick never had to worry about finding a doctor. For nearly 40 years, she saw the same family physician in the Victoria neighbourhood of James Bay.

He helped her through cancer treatment and recovery, performed regular checkups and kept track of her lab tests and medical records.

“He delayed retiring for I don’t know how many years, because he couldn’t find somebody to replace him,” Pedrick said.

Eventually, though, he had to quit, and Pedrick has been unable to find a permanent replacement.

“I’ve called a few places,” she said. “I couldn’t get anyone.”

Instead, like thousands of people in Greater Victoria and across B.C., she now relies on walk-in clinics, which she says are a poor substitute for the continuum of care she once received from her family doctor.

By way of example, she cited her last visit to a clinic to get a referral for a diagnostic mammogram — something she’s expected to do regularly as a breast-cancer survivor. The people at the clinic were very pleasant, she said, and obtaining the referral was no problem.

But they showed no interest in seeing her medical records, and when she inquired about getting an annual physical examination, a doctor told her the clinic no longer performed them.

The experience, she said, left her shaken and angry about the sorry state of primary health care in B.C. as it exists today.

“We need more family doctors,” she said. “It is my opinion, and the opinion of a lot of other people, that a good family doctor, who knows you, who is aware of your health history, and who oversees and manages your care, is the best preventative medicine there is.

Statistics Canada says 97,800 people — or nearly 15 per cent of the population age 12 and older on Vancouver Island — had no regular health-care provider in 2015-2016, the most recent period for which statistics were available.

In Sidney, a line of senior citizens can be seen snaking down the block an hour before the Shoreline Medical clinic opens.

“It looks like a movie theatre out there, people bring their chairs,” Dr. Gordon Henderson said. “The doors open at 8:30 a.m., but I often come in at 7:30 a.m. to do paperwork and people are there, in line.”

The 60-year-old physician called it “outrageous” that so many seniors have no family doctor.

“It’s gone beyond a doctor shortage — it’s a crisis,” he said. “Ninety-plus-year-olds without a family doctor, that’s not OK.”

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