By Steph Troughton
The B.C. family doctor shortage continuing to plague the province may become a distant memory for residents of Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows.
Ridge Meadows Division of Family Practice executive director Treena Innes says local staff who run the program A GP For Me are optimistic their strategies for dealing with the issue will continue to have an impact on the provincial shortage, which has been called critical.
Their program research showed there were 17,000 people in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows who did not have a family physician.
In its second year, RMDFP, which represents 87 family physicians in the community, has been successful in attracting several practitioners in the past year. Three have been recruited since August 2014. Two more doctors from the U.K. agreed to move to Pitt Meadows and will arrive in July. And another doctor is due to arrive in Maple Ridge in September. Each of them will have the typical roster of patients ranging from 1,500 to 2,000.
“We are definitely seeing some great progress,” says Innes.
A GP For Me is a $132-million, two-year-old provincial initiative developed by B.C. doctors and the Ministry of Health. The program’s goal is to have everyone in the province who wants a family physician to have access to one. To date, the Ministry of Health reports it has matched 54,600 patients to primary care providers.
Although Innes describes the recruitment component of the program as “highly successful,” she indicates there is still much work to be done. Her organization’s research also showed more than one-third of family doctors located locally will be retiring over the next 10 years. It is also expected the area’s population will grow by 19 per cent in that same time.
“We’ve got to keep moving forward with all of this.”
Retired family doctor and RMDFP board member Dr. Al Neufeld echoes Innes’ sentiments and adds a recent statistic shows 350 doctors in B.C. retire annually, “but only 280 students from B.C.’s medical schools are graduating.”
He said further that less than half of those graduates actually go into family practice.
In addition to recruiting new family doctors, RMDFP has developed a number of doctor-retention initiatives that include the launch of a medical pilot program called GP Extender, which involves administrative staff being trained to take over the administrative duties family doctors tackle on a daily basis.
A nurse practitioner who works out of the Salvation Army care facility and sees low or no-income individuals for everything from foot and wound care to nurse practitioner training is another example of RMDFP initiatives started in the last year.
According to recent reports, a backlog of 176,000 British Columbians looking for a family physician in 2010 has grown to more than 200,000.
Funding for the provincial A GP For Me program ends March 2016, when it will be reviewed.