Across the country, we’re seeing the health care system collapse amid staff shortages and the lasting impacts of the pandemic. In a recent survey completed by over 4,000 Health Advocates, 16% stated they don’t have access to a primary health care practitioner, with 64% stating that providing access to primary care is their main priority for improving access to health care in Canada.
In 2020, Statistics Canada reported that approximately 4.6 million Canadians aged 12 and over did not have regular access to a primary care provider. That number is expected to be higher today: A recent study conducted by the Angus Reid Institute revealed that nearly six million people in Canada (about 20% of the population) do not have a family physician.
In British Columbia, there has been significant reporting on the dire consequences of the situation, with ongoing temporary closures of emergency departments (EDs) due to limited staffing and the cascading effects of the primary care crisis.
Staffing shortages have also begun to spill over from the first line of impact in rural communities to urban centres like Ottawa, where EDs at Hôpital Montfort and the Carleton Place & District Memorial Hospital have been forced to reduce patient services or close temporarily, triggering concerns about longer wait times for the region.
Health care workers, patients and advocacy organizations like the Canadian Medical Association have been raising the alarm for years that the structure of the health care system is collapsing. Without a strong foundation of primary care as the first line of access for many Canadians, hospitals and EDs are feeling the strain on capacity. Not only are patients having to turn to hospitals to receive care that could otherwise be provided in a primary care setting, but the patients presenting in EDs are sicker as they have not received the primary care that could have prevented their condition from becoming serious.
Through consultation and collaboration between patients, health care workers and policy-makers, solutions to this crisis have emerged that will help move the health system toward stability and provide the infrastructure for a better future for health care.
At the forefront of these solutions is expanding interdisciplinary team-based care to provide more people in Canada with timely, equitable access to family doctors and other primary care practitioners. And there are other solutions that will help fill the gaps and address this crisis:
Across Canada, the call for change has been put out by the people most affected — patients, physicians, nurses and other health care professionals. What we need now is action. We need governments to commit to the solutions that are on the table and to demonstrate that commitment with meaningful action and support.