The five doctors closing their practice are: Dr. Temple, Dr. Amstutz, Dr. Parker, Dr. Sieberhagen and Dr. Esterhuizen.
Dr. Paul Mackey, a spokesperson for the Fort St. John Medical Clinic says they are closing their practices for a variety reasons. “So one’s going to full time emergency, ones going to full time administration, one’s going to maternity and travel. So you can see people are adjusting the scope of their practice.”
After June, Fort St. John will have a total of 13 family doctors, down from a high 32 in April of 2013. In the last year two doctors have moved to Fort St. John. Dr. Mackey says even more doctors will be closing their practice this year, but they haven’t formally given notice of the closure.
Patients that will be losing their family doctor will now become what’s called orphaned patients. Today there are over 18,000 people that do not have a family physician. Northern Health and the North Peace Division of Family Practice have announced plans for a new unattached patient clinic to temporarily deal with the doctor shortage, but they haven’t announced when the clinic will open.
Dr. Mackey says the supply of Doctors has changed as they can no long attract foreign doctors the same way they used to. “So we have been heavily reliant on foreign doctors that door is now shut. We have compounded the problem that the supply internally is not adequate, the supply is internationally has been closed. So in the past when people wanted to leave, we were often able to recruit from overseas, but now that option is closed.”
Dr. Mackey says it gets even worse because almost every other area of the Province is also looking for doctors, making it difficult to compete with those regions. “The problem is Kamloops needs 20 family doctors, you saw in the paper, the Tri-Cities area needs 50, the Sanich Penisula needs 20, Abbotsford needs scores. We’re on the bottom of a very long poll. We are the last choice.”
On average most full-time family doctors in Canada handle approximately 1,200 patients. In Fort St. John some doctors are handling a case load of over 2,400. According to Dr. Mackey, in a perfect world, Fort St. John needs over 40 family practitioners.
Can incentives work?
The Province has provided smaller communities in British Columbia with an incentive to have them open a practice in places like Tumbler Ridge, Chetwynd and Fort Nelson, but those programs haven’t been offered in communities the same size as Fort St. John.
Dr. Mackey believes incentives can work, but that would be a temporary solution. “Yes and no, there are difficult those programs. They are quiet divisive. I can see the merits in doing it to try and attract them, but then if you have someone who gets the bonus and someone who comes that doesn’t get the bonus, it does create division. I can see it creates a short term solution but does it really add overall to the benefit of the community? It’s a double edged sword and I don’t know what the bottom line answer is.”
Moose FM/Energeticcity.ca has put in a call to the Ministry of Health to speak with Minister Lake, we are hoping to hear back from the Minister later today.