The Bull Meter: Jack Layton on access to family doctors

How many Canadians "can't find" a physician?

[mac_quote person=”Jack Layton” date=”April 1, 2011″]Across the country, five million Canadians can’t find a family doctor.[/mac_quote]
[mac_bull score=”3″]

This figure has been thrown around for years. As far back as 2006, a Decima research poll commissioned by the College of Family Physicians of Canada (CFPC) found five million Canadians—or 17 per cent—did not have a family doctor. More recently, in 2009, a survey by the same pollster found a more palatable 13 per cent didn’t have one. Thirteen per cent of the 2009 population amounts to about 4.3 million people—slightly less than Layton’s number. Meantime, StatsCan’s Canadian Community Health Survey put the rate of access to a family doctor at about 85 per cent for 2007, 2008, and 2009, meaning about 15 per cent of Canadians don’t have a physician. So Layton’s estimate sounds about right.

But there’s more to the story. Just because some Canadians don’t have a family doctor hardly means they can’t find one. This is where the figures get tricky. A release about the Canadian Community Health Survey notes that of those without a regular doctor, more than half (54 per cent) said they had not even looked for one. Access also varied widely by province, with some places (Nova Scotia) recording consistently high rates of access (over 92 per cent) while others were much lower (Quebec hovers around 70 per cent). Similarly, the 2006 Decima survey for the CFPC also showed that less than half of those without a family physician—or less than two million people—had looked but couldn’t find one.

We called leading Canadian health policy analysts to find out what they thought about Layton’s assertion about the millions who “can’t find” a GP. They agreed it may be misleading. Morris Barer, director of UBC’s Centre for Health Services and Policy Research, says the five million statistic probably includes those who haven’t looked for a doctor. For example, says Barer, “many young people won’t bother establishing a relationship with a family physician because for the most part, they’re healthy.” Health policy consultant Michael Rachlis said the same, and noted that if care were better organized and distributed, everyone could get access. “But there are still too many who don’t have primary health care,” he added.

Heard something that doesn’t sound quite right? Send quotes from the campaign trail to and we’ll tell you just how much bull they contain.


Globe and Mail

Canadian Family Physician

Harris Decima 2009 survey

Statistics Canada’s Community Health Survey

Statistics Canada’s health trends analysis 2003-2009

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