A veteran doctor says a shortage of physicians in Victoria is so bad that some clinics are being forced to close during scheduled hours.

Long-time family doctor William Cavers says demand from patients is skyrocketing at a time when general practitioners are in short supply.

“People are desperate,” Cavers said. “There’s a lot of people out there with ongoing health concerns who can’t get a family doctor and are seeking their care through walk-in clinics and through the emergency department.”

The diagnosis is so grim that some over-run walk-in clinics are having trouble providing service, he said.

“We’re now finding that walk-in clinics are also short of family doctors and are shutting their gates and doors on some scheduled shifts,” said Cavers.

A search on the BC College of Physicians and Surgeons website backs up the claim that doctors are few and far between – with only three physicians currently listed as “accepting patients” in Victoria.

Those on the front lines of clinics and doctor’s offices say patients are paying the price.

“This clinic has been really busy and very difficult to staff as far as doctors are concerned,” said Lisa Phillips, a medical office assistant. “I field calls every day with people asking for an open spot, and every time I hate to tell them we have nothing. We are just too busy.”

But according to Cavers, a past president of the group Doctors of BC, a cure is on the way.

The province-wide “A GP For Me” initiative is a program in which doctors collectively help each other handle patient loads and fill gaps in service.

The program has seen great success in places like White Rock and Cowichan Valley, where it helped 4,400 people find a family doctor.

The initiative is now starting in Victoria as well, Cavers said.

“We know that Victoria has a problem when it comes to doctors and we are working to fix it,” he said.

The pilot project can take years to show results. In the meantime, Cavers said the city needs to become better at attracting and keeping young doctors.

In 2010, the government said that 176,000 British Columbians were without a family doctor. Cavers estimated that number has grown past 200,000 people in 2015.

With a report from CTV Vancouver Island’s Scott Cunningham