Jan. 19, 2004. 08:15 PM

New patients flock to MD's office

WATERLOO - It took less than four days for a doctors' office in Waterloo to sign up 1,200 new patients.
But no more can be accepted, say staff at the Northfield Family Medical Centre, where news of a new physician drew hundreds of people without a family doctor to line up at the office last Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

"It filled up quick. The lines were long. Some people waited for hours," said Linda Hartleib, a registered nurse who works for Dr. ***** Rainham and Dr. ****** Wilcock at 99 Northfield Dr. E.

"The people (who signed up) were ecstatic. They were so happy. But we can't take any more," Hartleib said yesterday, as she helped deal with a waiting room full of patients and phones ringing almost non-stop.

The phone message informs callers that no more patients are being accepted at the practice.

Wilcock, who gave up his former local practice in May 2002 to work in Toronto, is now back as part of Rainham's Health Service Organization, an alternative way for doctors to practise, in which they are paid a salary rather than fee-for-service.

The two physicians, plus a nurse practitioner, now have 5,000 patients on a roster, which means either one of the doctors or the nurse will see a patient.

Hartleib said people still without a family doctor are being asked to call the K-W Chamber of Commerce, which has a physician recruitment plan and is maintaining a waiting list. The number is 576-5000.

The list has approximately 3,000 names of people in Kitchener and Waterloo without a doctor. In Cambridge, an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 people don't have a family doctor in the city.

Across the province, a total of 118 communities are short 665 family physicians, affecting more than one million Ontario residents.

To address the shortage, Ontario's new Liberal government has pledged to train more doctors by increasing the number of medical school spaces, remove barriers that prevent highly qualified foreign-trained doctors from practising, create 150 family health teams to provide front-line care, and improve incentives already available to doctors who practise in underserviced communities.