With approximately 50 per cent of family doctors on the Saanich Peninsula slated to retire in the next seven years, two forces are teaming up to try and bring in more.
Dr. Ambrose Marsh, Chief of Staff at Saanich Peninsula Hospital, and Karen Morgan, the Executive Director for the Saanich Peninsula Hospital Foundation recently made a presentation to the three councils during a tri-municipal meeting regarding the dwindling numbers of doctors in the area.
“Only one of six doctors who retired this past year was able to find replacements,” said Marsh during the meeting.
“We’re talking about practices being closed, the charts going into boxes, that’s it.”
One of Marsh’s main concerns, he said, lies in the number of doctors available at the hospital.
“We just don’t have the numbers we need at the hospital right now. Many of the doctors are of an age now where they’re looking to give up their hospital privileges in order to slow down their workload.”
“What we’re beginning to see now is that we’re having to transfer patients from Saan Pen to Victoria and beyond because we aren’t able to care for them.”
According to Marsh, the challenges don’t lie only in not having enough doctors immediately, but also in recruiting family doctors for the future.
“There was a time when doctors were able to sell their practices and the patients would go with the practice but now doctors can’t give their practices away. A different model is desired these days. Not many younger doctors want to run a single practice, they prefer to be in a group practice with nine or 10 other doctors.”
To that end, the hospital and the hospital foundation are reaching out to local government to open a discussion on how to better recruit and retain medical professionals on the Saanich Peninsula.
“There are new graduates coming out of school with debt who can’t afford to live on the Peninsula, there’s a desire to be working in a community with group clinic models, there’s huge incentives for doctors to go work in rural communities. These are things we don’t have and we need everyone involved, all the players, to make this work,” said Marsh.
Other communities around the province, he added, offer new doctors incentives like tax breaks, real estate funds and benefits, but it’s about more than just throwing money at them.
“We need to look at having more expanded models that would encompass more opportunity and teaching options,” he said.
Currently, doctors outside of Victoria proper (from North and Central Saanich, Sidney, Colwood, Langford, Metchosin and Sooke) have formed the South Island Division of Family Practice (SIDFP) to help with downfalls of losing so many doctors to retirement. The goal of the division, Marsh said, is to provide the best health care possible for residents as well as offer professional support for family physicians.
And that’s where Morgan and the Foundation hope to be able to help.
“The Foundation supports the SIDFP and we are in a position to help. We know how important it is for patients to have a doctor that will see them in their practice as well as follow them into the hospital. There’s an obvious patient desire for that,” she said.
Morgan and Marsh estimate the hospital will need five doctors in the immediate future to be able to operate at the optimum level.
“That number would greatly support the model we have here at Saan Pen and that number would be able to absorb the current patients we have,” said Morgan, noting that above and beyond that the community will need an average of two to five doctors a year over the next five years at least.
“It’s a daunting task and the numbers sounds scary but it’s a normal process. This decline in professionals is happening everywhere as baby boomers look to retire and now we need to look at new models that will attract doctors.”
Sidney joins doctor retention group
“It’s a serious, long-term community issue,” says Sidney Mayor Larry Cross.
The Town of Sidney voted unanimously at a recent meeting to join the effort to look into ways of attracting and retaining doctors on the Saanich Peninsula.
“We have to do this,” added Councillor Steve Price. “If we don’t, we’re going to lose our hospital, basically.”
Council stated they feel the responsibility on attracting doctors to local communities is in the hands of the province — yet know that municipalities have to do their part. Coun. Mervyn Lougher-Goodey noted the province’s incentives for doctors to move to more rural areas might be a success at the expense of places like the Peninsula.