GANDER, NL – Colin Crocker hasn’t had a family doctor since his physician moved away from Gander in May.
The Gander man says when he visited a walk-in clinic last month, he was denied service and turned away.
Being extremely asthmatic and having excessive allergies, Crocker tried other walk-in clinics in town but got the same response.
No other family doctor has picked up patients left behind by his former physician.
“Living abroad, I’ve seen a number of doctors in different walk-in clinics across this country and I’ve never been turned away in a medical clinic in my life until I came to Gander,” he said.
“Having doctors not willing to see a patient is crazy. That just because a doctor has left, you are out of luck.”
His only option now is to see a doctor through emergency at James Paton Memorial Hospital, which treats patients through a triage format – patient selection is based on the severity of their condition.
“So, you’d probably have to wait four or five hours just to get a prescription,” added Crocker.
“Sometimes it takes courage to even go and see a doctor, but now not even making a doctor accessible without sitting down in emergency, which could possibly take away from people in an emergency situation, is a bit crazy to me.
“To be honest it kind of disgruntles you from going to see the doctor.”
Crocker has reached out to doctors he knows, but no one was taking on new patients at the time.
According to Health Minister John Haggie, Crocker is not alone.
In Haggie’s riding – Gander – he said many cases have come across his desk surrounding family doctor shortages.
Not only is it a concern of residents, but also the business community, Central Health and the town itself, he said.
A committee has been established to try and streamline the process.
“We go through cycles where Gander has challenges with recruitment, currently family physicians being the pressure point,” Haggie said. “We are trying to act through my office as a facilitator for this, to see how we can enhance recruitment and retention.”
With cases like Crocker’s, Haggie said treatment of patients is an ethical decision determined by individual practices, and that family physicians are required to provide three months’ notice when leaving or moving a practice. This allows patients time to seek new physicians.
“Obviously there is a challenge when there aren’t any (available),” Haggie said.
“I think one of the issues is to try and work with the health authorities to seek what other options there might be for getting primary care to those patients.”
However, “it’s difficult to persuade the other family physicians to take on even more of a work load. I think we need to look at what can be done through the Regional Health Authority to augment that in the short term, but those are discussions that are ongoing.”
The health minister feels a new way of practicing is needed, in which medical care is provided through a community environment rather than a single doctor.
“We are still in a transition between the old physician-delivered health care, to a much more community-based model through primary healthcare teams, where 80 per cent of routine family medicine can be dealt with nurse practitioners, mid-wives and other supporting teams,” he said. “But that change has not yet taken place in Gander and I think it’s put the citizens of Gander at a disadvantage.”
Central Health also acknowledges a shortage of family physicians in the Gander area, but cannot confirm the exact number as it falls under private practice.
The health authority also would not say whether it has seen more people coming through the emergency department at James Paton Memorial Hospital because of the shortage of family physicians in Gander.
It also did not say whether new procedures or protocols have been put in place to deal with patients without family doctors.
In a prepared statement in response to questions from the Beacon, Central Health stated that all patients that come through emergency departments are assessed and treated.
“The Canadian Triage and Acuity Scale (CTAS) helps the emergency department team to triage patients and ensure that the sickest patients are seen first," according to the statement.
Central Health also said non-emergency visits occur and that increased emergency visits are sometimes anticipated – such as flu season, in winter due to motor vehicle collisions, and slips/falls.