By: Fariha Husain on
Tom Mulcair, Leader of the Opposition and NDP MP for Outremont, in a speech on January 15, 2015
The number of Canadians without a doctor ranges between 4.6 million and 5.6 million, depending on the survey. According to one survey, a large portion of those were not looking for a family doctor.FactsCan Score: True
Speaking at a caucus strategy meeting in January, Tom Mulcair said “five million Canadians don’t have a family doctor.”
It is true, there are plenty of Canadians without a family physician. Exactly how many depends on the survey.
According to a 2014 Ipsos Reid poll commissioned by the College of Family Physicians of Canada, 16 per cent of Canadians age 18 and over reported not having a “family physician.” This translates to about 5.6 million people based on the 2014 poll.
However, Statistics Canada pegs the number of Canadians without a “regular medical doctor” (note the different term) at 15.5 per cent or about 4.6 million people age 12 and over based on the Canadian Community Health Survey from 2013.
Reasons for this difference could stem from the design of the survey question and different interpretation of the wording. The CCHS asked Canadians if they had a “regular medical doctor” which could include family physicians or general practitioners, specialists such as surgeons, allergists, orthopaedists, gynaecologists or psychiatrists, and pediatricians for those 12 to 17 years old. Ipsos Reid asked a representative sample of 2,004 Canadians if they had a “family doctor.” Another factor is the difference in age ranges, as pediatricians would be included in the CCHS but not the Ipsos Reid poll.
Differences aside, either 4.6 or 5.6 million Canadians are without a regular medical doctor or family doctor, respectively, according to these surveys. Mulcair is correct to peg the number at 5 million.
Although this statement is true, the context is important to consider.
In his speech, Mulcair implied it’s a bad state of affairs that around 5 million Canadians are doctorless. “It doesn’t have to be this way,” he said.
Whether this is good, bad or neutral is not relevant to this check, but something to keep in mind is that many of those Canadians were not looking for a family doctor. Among doctorless patients surveyed in the CCHS, just over 47 per cent reported they had not looked (they were not asked why). This is an important check to assumptions in public health debates, for instance, that there are not enough doctors to meet demand, or that more doctors will lead to better healthcare outcomes.
Editor’s note: The Ipsos Reid poll conducted for the Canadian College of Family Physicians has not been published online.