Canada seems to be reeling from an acute shortage of general practitioners. The issue comes to the fore as an overworked doctor gives up on his patients.
Dr.Allen Ausford of Edmonton in the Alberta province has informed hundreds of his patients that he would not be able to see them any more. He desperately needs to cut back on his 14-hour work days, he has told them.
The letter sent to patients tells them to call the health region for help finding another doctor.
Judy Berghofer, 64, was a patient of Dr. Allen Ausford for the past 20 years, but now is searching for a new physician because she's been dropped.
"I was stunned. I just burst into tears. It was a really bad blow," she said, after receiving the letter informing her of Ausford's decision.
Berghofer was one of 2,100 patients who were under Ausford's care at the Meadowlark Health Centre, but the physician said he could no longer keep up with an overwhelming workload, so he and another doctor who has been assisting him with those patients held a lottery.
The 500 people whose names came up were sent a letter telling them they would have to go somewhere else.
"I was immediately jealous of the patients who weren't dumped," Berghofer said. "You go through all these emotions, and it's like somebody died, because you have lost someone you trust so much with your health."
Ausford said his aging patients now needed more medical attention and he believed he couldn't give all of them the quality care they needed.
"It is the toughest thing I have done in 26 years of practice," he said.
The regional health authorities admit the problem is becoming acute.
"If this had happened in the past, we certainly would have had plans in place for contingencies, said Dr. Ernest Schuster, Capital Health's medical director of primary care.
"You would have asked another physician to take that part of your practice over and give an alternative. Where things become really difficult is that we do not have the family physicians to actually discharge all patients to."
The College of Family Physicians of Canada says nearly five million Canadians don't have a family doctor. Last year alone, two million Canadians went in search for a doctor but couldn't find one.