A letter sent to Esquimalt council by the South Island Division of Family Practice calls the need for primary care services in the community “immediate.”

The recent closure of one of two medical clinics due to retirement, and the relocation of a family doctor leaves just one full-time family physician and one part-time physician in the community of roughly 18,000 people.

The community’s mayor says there should be one for every 2,500 people.

“How critical is it?” asks Barb Desjardins. “It’s extremely critical.”

The problem isn’t exclusive to Esquimalt – even if people can travel, the mayor says other clinics are full too.

“We’ve done a study and we found that the 21 clinics that are closest to Esquimalt in the rest of the region are maxed out and the timeframe by which you might be waiting is extensive,” says Desjardins.

The 1.5 remaining family physicians work out of the Esquimalt Medical Clinic, which is full. The clinic has walk-in hours, but within the first 30 minutes Tuesday it was also full. The site’s medical director says people often line up before it even opens.

“There’s a huge demand,” says Dr. Anthony Nielsen. “We’re unable to keep up in any way.”

The South Island Division of Family Practice says recruitment for new primary care providers is underway, adding that the town would benefit if short-term and medium-term clinic space was made available.

“I’ve gone out, spoken to developers: ‘If you’re bringing a project forward, here are some of the needs for a medical clinic,’” says the mayor. “You need to be close to buses, those sorts of things.”

Desjardins adds that a short-term solution could be mobile portables set up in a parking lot. She also says considerations are underway for incentives to encourage family doctors to work in the community.

“I’m quite certain that if the city or the government came up with more funds to pay doctors to work here, it would be no problem whatsoever,” says Nielsen.