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Statement: Escalating Crisis in Family Medicine

January 25, 2024

Sault Ste. Marie’s Group Health Centre announced today that 10,000 patients will lose access to their family doctor as of May 31. Another 6,000 are at risk of losing access later this year.  

In total, by the end of the year, nearly 30 per cent of the population in Sault Ste. Marie and Algoma could be left without a family doctor. It’s devasting in a Northern community with limited primary care options. 

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated situation. What’s unfolding in Sault Ste. Marie is an example of what’s happening across Ontario. There are already 2.3 million Ontarians without a family doctor – and the problem is growing – with 1 in 4 Ontarians projected to be without a family doctor by 2026.  

Despite the challenges, family doctors continue to go above and beyond for patients. However, without meaningful and immediate action, the crisis will only continue to grow.  

The provincial government has an opportunity to take bold steps to improve health care for millions of Ontarians and increase access to family doctors by acknowledging the severity of the family physician shortage and prioritizing it on its agenda. 

The reasons driving the shortage are diverse. Family doctors lack team support – only 30 per cent of Ontarians have access to a family doctor supported by a team. Family doctors are facing ever-increasing paperwork, which takes 19 hours a week of their time. Many are nearing retirement, and because of the unrelenting challenges, fewer medical students are taking their place.  

Showing tremendous dedication to its community, the Group Health Centre in Sault Ste. Marie says it did everything it could to prevent patients from losing care. Across Ontario, the pressure has been on overburdened family doctors to solve these crises. However, the issue is complex and requires system-level change and government support.  

Family doctors have solutions, but Ontario must act now. Every effort must be made to retain the family doctors we have and recruit new ones. The Ontario College of Family Physicians urges Ontario to: 

  • Urgently fund new or existing teams as previously announced and immediately expand on that investment. More support for family doctors means better access to primary care for Ontarians.  
  • Immediately reduce the red tape and administrative burden family doctors are facing. Less paperwork means more time for patients.  

Additionally, the Group Health Centre in Sault Ste. Marie is calling for emergency stabilization funding. They are also asking to be included in existing Ontario programs that provide administrative support to connect patients with referrals. 

The situation is dire, but we believe a rapid response from government and health care leaders could help stabilize the current crisis in Sault Ste. Marie and across Ontario. At the same time, we need to set our sights on developing long-term, sustainable solutions. 


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