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Province needs more doctors, Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association report says

Dr. Charlene Fitzgerald, a family physician in Happy Valley Goose Bay and president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association, speaks at a news conference Wednesday at the NLMA’s headquarters on MacDonald Drive in St. John’s. Looking on is Dr. David Peachy, who completed a recent report for the NLMA about the province’s shortage of family physicians.
Dr. Charlene Fitzgerald, a family physician in Happy Valley Goose Bay and president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association, speaks at a news conference Wednesday at the NLMA’s headquarters on MacDonald Drive in St. John’s. Looking on is Dr. David Peachy, who completed a recent report for the NLMA about the province’s shortage of family physicians. - Joe Gibbons

'The need for a plan has now reached a critical level': NLMA President Charlene Fitzgerald

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

The Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association (NLMA) Wednesday released a family physician human resource forecast that identifies the current shortage of family doctors in the province.

The report also projects the demand for physicians over the next 10 years to meet the needs of the population.

“For years, the NLMA has been saying the province has a problem with access to primary care and a shortage of family doctors,” NLMA president Charlene Fitzgerald stated in a news release.

“This view is also held by 92 per cent of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians who, according to 2019 polling by Narrative Research, believe there are too few doctors in the province. Today, we have hard evidence that supports this.”

The NLMA says that, in the absence of a provincial physician human resource plan, it commissioned Dr. David Peachey of the Nova Scotia health care consulting firm Health Intelligence Inc. to develop a family physician forecast for the province.

“The need for a plan has now reached a critical level." — NLMA President Charlene Fitzgerald

Peachey has completed similar work for the governments of Nova Scotia, Alberta, Yukon, the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. He is also a family physician.

The release notes that, from a headcount perspective, there are 629 family physicians licensed to practice in the province. Many family medicine practices, however, involve much more than community-based clinics. When considering the proportion of physician practices dedicated to patient care, the report determined there are actually 431 family physicians in the province who are “full-time equivalents.”

The report also predicts the need for additional family doctors based on current shortages, the growing number of older adults, the burden of illness, current recruitment efforts, physician turnover and expected retirements.

The report forecasts that an additional 60 full-time family physicians are needed immediately to address the current shortage. This includes 24 additional family doctors in the eastern region, 12 in central, 12 in the western region and at least 11 in the Labrador-Grenfell region.

The report also forecasts that an average of about 20 more family doctors per year will be needed in the remaining nine years of the forecast period, for a total of 243 additional family doctors over the coming decade to meet the predicted needs of the population.

 

“The need for a plan has now reached a critical level. In September, the NLMA released public polling results which showed that as many as 99,000 residents of the province, or one in five people, do not have a family doctor. We are simply not recruiting enough family doctors to take on these unattached patients or to keep pace with the growing needs of our population,” said Fitzgerald. “As a result, many patients are now relying on emergency room visits for non-emergency medical attention. We are also seeing a growing number of patients arriving at emergency departments with advanced stages of disease because they are not being managed by a family doctor.”

The NLMA says it has presented the provincial government with new proposals aimed at recruiting more Memorial University family medicine residents into community practices as soon as possible. The NLMA has also provided recommendations to help unattached patients who do not have a family doctor. This includes the creation of practice sites for unattached patients and expansion of physician practices to include nurses and nurse practitioners.

Opposition Leader Ches Crosbie on Wednesday urged the government to take immediate action to implement the recommendations made by the NLMA.

“The family doctor shortage is one of the biggest issues facing the people of Newfoundland and Labrador today,” Crosbie stated in a news release. “We hear constantly from our constituents in all areas of the province that the shortage has reached near-crisis levels. This crisis has been confirmed by the numbers released by the NLMA today and immediate action is needed.”

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