The Hamilton Spectators (July 12): Hamilton has more doctors in family health teams despite....

Title: Hamilton has more doctors in family health teams despite physician shortage

Hamilton has "average" access to family doctors compared to other cities across the province but more doctors in family health teams, according to a new report.

But the city still has a shortage of 44 family doctors despite more than a decade of dedicated recruitment, says Hamilton's physician recruiter.

The report — published Tuesday by the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES) — examines access to primary-care physicians across Ontario based on geography, taking into account the number of doctors in a given area compared to population, the travel time it takes to reach them and their model of practice.

"We kind of start with the basics here," said Dr. Rick Glazier, who is a scientist at ICES, a family physician at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto and one of the report's authors. "Obviously, if the provider who's near you is not taking new patients or doesn't speak your language or isn't available the hours when you're available, that's an additional problem."

Some of the findings were not shocking, Glazier noted, such as rural communities typically experiencing longer travel times and more difficult access than their urban counterparts.

But the "huge" variation in the type of care available across the province came as a surprise, he said.

For instance, close to half of Hamilton residents have access to a family health team, but in Brantford, that number is between five and 10 per cent. It's a similar situation comparing Guelph to Kitchener-Waterloo, Glazier said.

The province clamped down on doctors joining or creating family health teams just over two years ago, so no new family health teams can be created and doctors can only join those in existence if replacing retiring physicians. The exception is 20 entrants a month to family health teams in underserviced areas of the province.

This has made recruitment even more difficult because almost every single resident trains in this team-based model, said Jane Walker, the city's physician recruiter.

Despite recruiting 272 family doctors over the past 12 years, Hamilton is back to where it was at in 2005, largely because of a wave of baby boomers retiring since 2013.

Currently, there are 345 practising family physicians in Hamilton — a marginal increase from 342 at this time in 2016, she said.

"I don't take a lot of comfort in that just because we have so many physicians that are retiring," she said, noting it's been more than the average over the last several years.

This year alone, 21 new family doctors have started practising locally since December, but 18 have left the practice through retirement, a move, illness or changing specialties.

While another four physicians could start before the end of the year, another 10 could leave, meaning the city will likely have fewer than 345 family doctors at the end of 2017, she said.

"It's a numbers game," Walker said. "It's trying to stay on top of it."

Certainly, areas of the city tend to feel the impact more acutely than others, such as the south Mountain, Binbrook and Flamborough, which have seen population increases in recent years often due to new developments.

"They don't have enough physicians there," she said.

Author: Natalie Paddon

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