When 82-year-old Michael Mort’s longtime GP told him last summer that he would be retiring before Christmas, he gave him six months’ notice. But the Vancouver Island senior soon found out it wasn’t enough time to find a new one.
“Since then, we haven’t been able to find a doctor to replace him,” says Mort, whose name has been on the BC’s health referral system for an entire year.
“We’ve never had a call,” said Mort’s wife Janet. “They should help patients find connections for doctors. I spoke to them again this week and they said they had exhausted all possibilities.”
The issue became urgent last week when Michael’s pharmacy told him they could no longer dispense his medications without a new doctor’s prescription.
“I immediately started crying and said, ‘I can’t get a doctor, so how am I supposed to renew his prescriptions?’ said Janet.
Out of desperation, she placed an ad in Saturday’s Victoria Times Colonist newspaper which reads “WANTED: BC Licensed Medical Doctor for Prescription Renewal.” The ad offered to pay “any reasonable fee” to a doctor who could write her husband’s prescriptions.
“I hope there’s a compassionate doctor out there who says I can squeeze one more person into my practice,” Janet said. She soon found out that she wasn’t the only one looking for a GP.
“A lot of people wrote to say they are in the same situation, and can we please keep in touch and if I had any success I would let them know. Lots of good ideas, lots of compassion, lots of people who care about you,” Janet said.
A handful of doctors replied that they could help with urgent prescriptions, but couldn’t take on a needy senior like Michael as a new patient.
“There are undoubtedly a lot of people like me who need a doctor who need access to medical treatment, medical care that only a doctor can provide. And it’s at a crisis level, I think, for the county,” said Michael Mort.
Vancouver’s primary care physician, Dr. Anna Wolak, agrees.
“When I saw that ad in the paper, some of it was good, at least it’s being brought to light even more than it already is. But at the same time it’s like, ‘Oh my god, I can’t believe we’ve failed people like this,'” she said.
Janet says the county needs to do more to recruit and retain GPs to prevent frail seniors from missing out on important prescriptions and potentially life-saving primary care.
‘My plea would be, please help us. I’m sure it’s not just seniors, but seniors are in a very difficult position right now,” she said, adding, “We’re not disposable and we deserve care.”
Earlier estimates put the number of British Columbians who do not have a GP at nearly a million – about 20 percent of people living in the province.