Sarah Palmer holds up a swab before administering a COVID-19 test in late December. The state announced on Tuesday that a variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 had been detected in Alaska for the first time. (Photo by Ben Hohenstatt/Juneau Empire)

Sarah Palmer holds up a swab before administering a COVID-19 test in late December. The state announced on Tuesday that a variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 had been detected in Alaska for the first time. (Photo by Ben Hohenstatt/Juneau Empire)

Canada’s ‘long-haulers’ without family doctor need primary care: medical association

At least 10 per cent of COVID-19 patients are believed to suffer from symptoms months after their diagnosis

The head of the Canadian Medical Association is urging the federal government to boost access to family doctors for COVID-19 ‘long-haulers’ enduring ongoing illness and requiring referrals to multiple specialists.

Dr. Ann Collins said people struggling with persistent and wide-ranging symptoms and without a primary care provider need a regular physician to manage their care, which will continue long after the pandemic is over.

“There’s no question that there is clear value to having a primary care physician or a primary care team who the patient can always be anchored to, and who can make the necessary referrals,” Collins said from Fredericton, where she has been a family doctor for three decades.

At least 10 per cent of COVID-19 patients are believed to suffer from symptoms months after their diagnosis, according to various studies around the world that have cited brain fog, anxiety and conditions involving multiple organs, such as the heart and lungs.

Collins said there’s a lack of recognition about “long COVID” among health-care providers, likely because some have symptoms similar to chronic fatigue syndrome, leading to further frustration for patients who are stuck in a seemingly never-ending battle with the disease.

“What strikes me is that when we talk about COVID, we talk about numbers and we talk about restrictions and we talk about deaths. And now we’re talking about vaccines. We don’t spend a lot of time talking about the people that are sick.”

Shane Kinniburgh of Woodstock, Ont., said he felt some relief that he didn’t have any symptoms after testing positive for COVID-19 last October. But that feeling lasted for only a couple of days before he, his three-year-old daughter and his fiancee were hit hard by the infection.

Four months later, all of them are still struggling through a set of different symptoms but they don’t have a family doctor to track what’s happening to them.

“It’s been a lot harder,” Kinniburgh said. “When I try to make an appointment at a drop-in clinic I have to make sure they can do phone calls or video because by the government’s regulations, I can’t go anywhere. I can’t go into a business because I have symptoms.”

Kinniburgh, 40, said his symptoms are the worst among his family members and include a blockage in his heart, hives, food allergies and an intense sensitivity to sunlight that his eyes can’t tolerate.

When he ended up in the emergency department with a racing heart, Kinniburgh was referred to a cardiologist. When he started having migraines, he went back to a neurologist he’d seen after a concussion two years earlier.

Brain fog is most troubling for him.

“You feel like you’re 90 years old with dementia. I could literally go into one room if I’m in the confusion stage and not who know who I am, where I am. And then I’m just about in tears, in a panic, trying to figure it out. And I’m a 6 foot, four guy, 300 pounds. And I’m feeling scared when those things come on.”

Kinniburgh has undergone at least four tests to monitor his heart, countless trips to labs for blood work and dangerous spikes in his cholesterol and blood pressure. He can barely get out of bed sometimes and worries about caring for his young daughter and fiancee as they struggle with symptoms including anxiety, he said.

The lack of a family doctor means having to deal with whichever physician is available at a walk-in clinic, but no health-care provider is monitoring his overall condition or has a history of his pre-COVID health status, he said.

“It’s a pain. It literally is a pain because these doctors don’t know me.”

Specialized clinics for long-haulers have opened in parts of Western and Central Canada, with some conducting studies to better understand the condition, but patients are typically not seen until three months after their symptoms begin.

The Canadian Medical Association’s pre-budget submission to the federal government in February 2020 included a request for an expansion of primary care, especially for disadvantaged, rural and aging populations with chronic conditions, but Collins said long COVID-19 has greatly amplified the need to speed up initiatives.

The association asked for a $1.2 billion funding commitment over four years to establish primary care networks across the country based on successful programs in Ontario, Quebec and Alberta.

A federal budget was not tabled early last year due to the then-emerging threat of COVID-19, as lockdowns began around the country and the government cited economic uncertainty. A date has not yet been set to unveil the 2021 budget.

Health Canada did not provide information on any increase in funding specifically to expand family practice initiatives related to the pandemic but referenced a September 2020 funding agreement with the provinces and territories aimed at restarting their economies.

It includes a $700-million promise to support measures such as testing and contact tracing in response to a potential future surge in COVID-19 cases.

Statistics Canada data released last October shows 14.5 per cent of Canadians aged 12 and older, roughly 4.6 million people, did not have a regular health-care provider in 2019.

Residents of Quebec were the worst off, with 21.5 per cent of them lacking a family doctor, while nearly 18 per cent of British Columbians did not have a general practitioner and 17 per cent of residents in Saskatchewan were in that situation, the agency said.

In New Brunswick, about 10 per cent of people did not have a regular doctor while Ontario had the lowest number of residents, at 9.4 per cent, who were without a general practitioner. All other provinces had a rate that was similar to the national average, the data show.

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief medical health officer, told a news conference last month that the provision of health care is within provincial and territorial jurisdictions and that the Canadian Institute for Health Research is supporting the further understanding of the long-term impact of COVID-19.

However, she said it’s important for clinicians to recognize there’s a lot that is unknown about people who have been infected with the virus and that “we need to continue to look after and support those who’ve had COVID-19.”

Camille Bains, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

February 17, 2021 - Kaelyn (L) and Costin Campbell are Goldstream News Gazette 2021 Local Heroes.
Pint-sized duo inspires others to be green

Costin and Kaelyn Campbell are this year’s Environmental Heroes

Erin Oldman received a scholarship through Royal Roads University (RRU), called the Legacy Award, which is given out once every five years. Oldman graduated from RRU with a Masters of Arts in Human Security and Peacebuilding, and is using the award to establish a charity called International Humanitarian Assessments, which helps people in war-torn areas of the Middle East. (Photo contributed by Erin Oldman)
Royal Roads University graduate receives $25,000 award

Erin Oldman will use the award to establish a charity in the Middle East

Sandy Carmichael is a Goldstream Gazette 2021 Local Hero as Seniors’ Champion. (Don Denton/Black Press Media)
Worker bee returns to volunteer: Sandy Carmichael a fixture at Langford Royal Canadian Legion

Sandy Carmichael is the 2021 recipient of the Seniors’ Champion Award

The It’s Critical campaign has raised $5.89 million towards its $7 million goal to expand critical care capacity at Victoria’s Royal Jubilee Hospital. (Black Press Media file photo)
Critical care improvements make the list with Greater Victoria shoppers

Save-On-Foods pledges $300,000 to Victoria Hospitals Foundation’s It’s Critical campaign

West Shore Parks and Recreation facilities face a challenging future in terms of funding, due to reduced operations throughout the pandemic. (Black Press Media file photo)
West Shore Parks and Recreation faces challenging future

West Shore Parks and Recreation Society submits 2021 budget request to owner municipalities

Abbotsford’s Kris Collins turned to TikTok out of boredom when the provincial COVID-19 lockdown began in March 2020. She now has over 23 million followers on the video app. Photo: Submitted
Internet famous: Abbotsford’s Kris Collins is a TikTok comedy queen

Collins has found surprise stardom alone with a phone

A Vancouver restaurant owner was found guilty of violating B.C.’s Human Rights Code by discriminating against customers on the basis of their race. (Pixabay)
Vancouver restaurant owner ordered to pay $4,000 to customers after racist remark

Referring to patrons as ‘you Arabs’ constitutes discrimination under B.C.’s Human Rights Code, ruling deems

Dasher is back home with mom Christine Girvin thanks to some help from BC Ferries staff. Photo supplied
The cat came back, with help from BC Ferries staff

After Dasher made a dash, staff in Comox found her and got her home safe

Nanaimo children’s author and illustrator Lindsay Ford’s latest book is ‘Science Girl.’ (Photo courtesy Lindsay Ford)
B.C. children’s writer encourages girls to pursue the sciences in new book

Lindsay Ford is holding a virtual launch for latest book, ‘Science Girl’

Pig races at the 145th annual Chilliwack Fair on Aug. 12, 2017. Monday, March 1, 2021 is Pig Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Feb. 28 to March 6

Pig Day, Canadian Bacon Day and Grammar Day are all coming up this week

Staff from the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, passersby, RCMP and Nanaimo Fire Rescue carried a sick 300-kilogram steller sea lion up the steep bluff at Invermere Beach in north Nanaimo in an attempt to save the animal’s life Thursday. (Photo courtesy Marine Mammal Rescue Centre)
300-kilogram sea lion muscled up from B.C. beach in rescue attempt

Animal dies despite efforts of Nanaimo marine mammal rescue team, emergency personnel and bystanders

Doctors and counsellors warn of an increase in panic attacks, anxiety, depression and suicide ideas between ages 10 to 14, in Campbell River. ( Black Press file photo)
Extended pandemic feeding the anxieties of B.C.’s youth

Parents not sure what to do, urged to reach out for help

Gina Adams as she works on her latest piece titled ‘Undying Love’. (Submitted photo)
‘Toothless’ the kitty inspires B.C. wood carver to break out the chainsaw

Inspired by plight of a toothless cat, Gina Adams offers proceeds from her artwork to help animals

B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson presents bill to delay B.C.’s budget as late as April 30, and allow further spending before that, B.C. legislature, Dec. 8, 2020. (Hansard TV)
How big is B.C.’s COVID-19 deficit? We’ll find out April 20

More borrowing expected as pandemic enters second year

Most Read