More than half a million people living in Toronto don't have a family doctor, the Ontario College of Family Physicians said on Tuesday.

That number could reach nearly one million by 2026, it forecasted.

“Family medicine is under enormous strain right now due to system-wide issues. However, we believe it's possible to turn this crisis around and let family doctors get back to what they most want, which is to be there for their patients,” Dr. Mekalai Kumanan, president of the college, said in a news release.

Many family doctors are expected to retire in the coming years and there aren't enough doctors choosing family medicine to replace them and keep up with population growth, the release said.

Some family doctors are also leaving the profession because they have an overwhelming amount of administrative work anddon't practise medicine in a multidisciplinary team environment with other health-care professionals to support patient care, it said.

Across the province, 2.3 million people don't have a family doctor, it said, predicting that could grow to 4.4 million patients by 2026.

The college called on the Ontario government to retain more family doctors by upgrading outdated administrative systems, investing in more comprehensive team-based care for patients and ensuring fair compensation that keeps up with inflation.

“There have been some positive signals from government, such as recent funding for some teams and a commitment to address the admin burden,” said Kumanan.

“But it's time for Ontario to act urgently and provide family doctors with the support they need to continue caring for Ontarians.”

Hannah Jensen, spokesperson for provincial Health Minister Sylvia Jones, pointed to an announcement on Feb. 1 pledging “the largest expansion of interprofessional primary care teams since they were established in Ontario.”

“We are investing $110 million, triple the original amount set out in our 23/24 budget to create and expand 78 primary care teams, that will ensure 98 per cent of Ontarians are connected to a primary care provider over the next several years,” Jensen said in an email.

The provincial government has also launched initiatives to help reduce both the administrative burden on physicians and the risk of delays for patients, she said.

Those include replacing the use of fax machines in health care with digital communications for things like referrals and prescriptions, Jensen said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 5, 2024.