Uncovering the real numbers behind who in Ontario lacks access to a family doctor

From The Globe and Mail

The number of Ontarians without a family doctor rose significantly during the first two years of the pandemic, according to the most comprehensive analysis yet of how access to primary care is deteriorating in Canada’s most populous province.

More than 2.2 million Ontarians were without a regular physician as of March, 2022, up from nearly 1.8 million in March of 2020 – a 24-per-cent increase. That means 14.7 per cent of Ontarians now rely on walk-in clinics and emergency rooms for primary care or go without it altogether, up from just over 12 per cent before COVID struck.

Children, newcomers to Ontario, and patients who live in the poorest and most racialized neighbourhoods were most likely to see their access worsen, but people from all walks of life lost their family doctors during the two-year period, the data show.

Another is that despite the worsening situation in Ontario, it still outperforms other provinces on access to primary care, according to a survey of just over 9,000 Canadians led by Tara Kiran, a family doctor and researcher at the University of Toronto whose findings jibe with those of Statistics Canada surveys.

“Ontario is, in many ways, doing the best compared to other provinces,” Dr. Kiran said. “I can only imagine what’s happening in other parts of the country.”

Compiling and comparing detailed national data on primary-care access and other key metrics is one of the goals of the federal health funding offer, which premiers accepted on Monday,despite it falling short of their demands.

Family doctor and University of Toronto researcher Rick Glazier, the other co-leader of Inspire, the network of family medicine researchers, said that although Mr. Trudeau named access to family health teams as a prioritylast week,neither the Prime Minister nor his provincial counterparts seem to grasp how dire the shortage of family doctors is about to become – especially in light of population aging and the federal government’s plan to admit nearly 1.5 million new permanent residents by 2025.

“I’m honestly not seeing the sense of urgency in expanding the interprofessional teams and building the environments that new graduates would want to work in,” Dr. Glazier said. “It’s not really as much about spending the money as changing the system.”

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