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Canadians Despair for Family Doctors

Shortage of family physicians is giving to a serious health crisis in Canada, many fear.//

According to a survey done a few months ago, about five million Canadians, or 17 per cent of the population, do not have a family doctor.

Among those doctorless people, nearly two million of them, or 38 per cent, have attempted to find a family physician in the past year, but have failed.

Not having a family physician makes it harder for Canadians to get referred to a specialist, which means they often have to wait for advanced medical care.

In the early '90s, health care was first identified as one of Canadians' chief concerns, topping economic issues such as jobs and taxes. As reductions in health spending became a way of trimming government deficits, concerns about access to health care grew significantly.

Today more than 60,000 city residents of Hamilton in the province of Ontario feel left in the lurch without the services of a family doctor.

Those who are fortunate enough to hear about doctors taking on new patients are regularly required to go through a screening process before being accepted.

If a would-be patient has too many health issues, he or she may not be accepted as a patient -- leaving them in a state of anxiety.

Overloaded doctors are looking for "healthier patients," not those who might actually require additional medical services. This is absurd, columnist Evelyn Myrie remarks angrily.

The shortage of family doctors is forcing some families to travel to find medical care. A woman was so desperate she used the address of a family member in another city to find a doctor. "I have driven miles out of town for medical appointments," she said.

Time and time again the issue of timely access has plagued the Canadian public health-care system. Public opinion polls put the length of waiting times for hospital care, access to specialists and waiting times for diagnost ic services as major challenges to the country's medicare system.

The family physician shortage is particularly acute in Quebec, where nearly 29 per cent of the population doesn't have a doctor.

The president of the Quebec College of Family Physicians, Bernard Lessard, says he gets up to 20 e-mails a day from people exasperated at the impossible task of finding a doctor to call their own.

A National Wait Times Strategy was developed in 2004 for five priority areas: cancer care, cardiac treatment, diagnostic tests such as MRIs, joint replacements and cataract surgeries.

But columnist Evelyn Myrie says in Hamilton wait time has gone up to 23 weeks from 20 weeks last year. This wait time has major consequence for the health of patients.

"We also learned about a local man who died before receiving government approval for the gastric surgery he so desperately sought for eight years. Forty-five-year-old Jamie Bogart's approval for treatment for his severe obesity came one day after he was buried," she added.

A disaster in the making unless all concerned put their heads together and devise appropriate strategies, sociologists warn.

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