Ministry health

BC primary care clinics chronically understaffed: ministry documents

BC Liberal Health Critic Shirley Bond accused Health Minister Adrian Dix of “dodging questions about BC’s lack of family doctors”.

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VICTORIA – British Columbia’s primary care clinics, touted as a way to provide urgent health care to people without a family doctor, are chronically understaffed and don’t have enough doctors to keep up with demand, according to Ministry of Health documents.

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The revelations come as hundreds of people gathered on the lawn of the Legislative Assembly on Thursday to call on the government to take action on the shortage of family doctors.

BC Liberal Health Critic Shirley Bond accused Health Minister Adrian Dix of “dodging questions about the lack of family doctors in BC” and of having identified urgent primary care centers as a potential solution to the crisis.

“We are now seeing that the NDP Primary Care Networks and Primary Care Networks (PCNs) are severely understaffed and failing to meet the needs of British Columbians without a family doctor,” Bond said in a statement.

For example, the Westshore Emergency Primary Care Clinic in Horgan township, Langford-Juan de Fuca, has one doctor out of the seven full-time doctors it is supposed to have.

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Richmond’s primary care network has been open for three years and government funding has enabled the hiring of 32 full-time physicians. It currently has only one doctor. The Côte-Nord primary care network has been in operation for two years and has only three physicians out of the 17.5 licensed physicians.

The Ministry of Health documents were released by the BC Liberal Party, which asked for numbers on the staffing of emergency primary care centers and primary care networks.

Dix touted emergency primary care centers and the broader system of team-based primary care networks as a way for people without a family doctor to access same-day appointments for urgent needs. The goal is also for patients to bond with a doctor who knows your medical history and can provide ongoing care.

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However, urgent primary care centers across British Columbia are struggling to keep up with patient demand, often putting up signs early in the morning indicating that appointments are full for the day.

Prime Minister John Horgan has acknowledged that urgent primary care clinics are understaffed, which is why on Thursday morning he spoke to federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos about increasing health transfers from Ottawa to the provinces.

“We have hired more medical professionals in the past three years than in the previous 13 years,” Horgan told reporters. “And despite that, we’re still short.”

Horgan said the health care shortage in British Columbia is not new, but has been exacerbated by an aging population. He noted the high number of doctors in their 70s treating patients in their 80s.

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“So we have a big systemic problem. It will require a major overhaul and that is why it starts with the Canada Health Transfer,” he said.

During Question Period, Dix defended the primary care model, saying the government has added 59 primary care networks, which have connected 142,000 people to a doctor or nurse practitioner.

The scrutiny of primary care staffing levels came as hundreds stood outside the Legislative Assembly on World Family Doctor Day and called for immediate government funding to shore up the system of ruined health.

Dr. Shelly Jetzer, a South Delta-based family doctor, wore black at the rally on Thursday to indicate that she, too, does not have a family doctor.

“I’m a family doctor and I don’t have a family doctor,” said Jetzer, who said her doctor couldn’t find anyone to take over her practice when she retired. “That’s one of the reasons I’m here.”

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Jetzer previously operated a full-service family practice, but closed it in 2015 because it was financially unsustainable.

“I believe in seeing patients, giving them time, only seeing three to four patients an hour, not high volume like a walk-in clinic,” she said.

Many family physicians have said the fee-for-service model — which pays physicians $30 or $40 per visit, regardless of the severity of the patient’s problem — is outdated and does not adequately compensate physicians generalists for their work.

Jetzer said there is a pay disparity between family physicians, who must cover overhead costs to run their practice, versus physicians who work in hospitals or specialty clinics.

The government is working with Doctors of BC to review the compensation model for family physicians with the goal of preventing physicians from leaving their practice or avoiding family medicine altogether.

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Horgan said he asked senior Ministry of Health official Stephen Brown to sit down with BC doctors to “chart a way forward so that we can address some of the issues affecting the health system.” access to general practitioners and affect our primary care network. So I’m very happy that this is happening.

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