B.C. primary care clinics chronically understaffed: Ministry of Health documents – Vancouver Sun

B.C. Liberal health critic Shirley Bond accused Health Minister Adrian Dix of “dodging questions about the lack of family doctors in B.C.”
VICTORIA — B.C.’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.

The revelations come as hundreds of people gathered Thursday on the lawn of the Legislature demanding government action on the family doctor shortage.

B.C. Liberal health critic Shirley Bond accused Health Minister Adrian Dix of “dodging questions about the lack of family doctors in B.C.” and pointing to the urgent primary care centres as a potential solution to the crisis.

“Now we see the NDP’s (urgent primary care centres) and primary care networks (PCNs) are horrendously understaffed and failing to address the needs of British Columbians without a family doctor,” Bond said in a statement.

For example, the Westshore urgent primary care clinic, in Horgan’s riding of Langford-Juan de Fuca, has one doctor out of the seven full-time doctors it’s supposed to have.

Richmond’s primary care network has been open for three years and government funding allowed for 32 full-time physicians. It currently has only one doctor. The North Shore primary care network has been operating for two years and has just three physicians of the 17.5 doctors approved.

The Ministry of Health documents were released by the B.C. Liberal party, which requested figures on staffing levels at urgent primary care centres and primary care networks.

Dix has touted urgent primary care centres and the larger 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 become attached to a physician who knows your medical history and can provide continuing care.

However, urgent primary care centres across B.C. have struggled to keep up with patient demand, often putting up signs early in the morning saying appointments are full for the day.

Premier John Horgan acknowledged the urgent primary care clinics are short-staffed, which is why on Thursday morning he spoke to federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos about increasing Ottawa’s health transfers to the provinces.

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

Horgan said B.C.’s health-care shortage isn’t new but it’s been exacerbated by the aging population. He noted the high number of doctors in their 70s treating patients in their 80s.

“So we have a large systemic problem. That will require large rethinking and that’s why it starts with the Canada Health Transfer,” he said.

In question period, Dix defended the primary care model saying the government has added 59 primary care networks, which have attached 142,000 people to either a physician or nurse practitioner.

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

Dr. Shelly Jetzer, a family doctor based in South Delta, wore black to the rally Thursday to indicate that she, too, doesn’t 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.”

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

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

Many family doctors have said the fee-for-service model — which pays physicians $30 or $40 per visit regardless of the severity of the patient’s issue — is outdated and doesn’t adequately compensate general practitioners for their work.

Jetzer said there’s a pay disparity between family doctors, who must cover the overhead to run their practice, compared with physicians who work in hospitals or specialty clinics.

The government is working with the Doctors of B.C. to review the payment model for family doctors in an attempt to stop physicians from leaving their practice or avoiding family medicine altogether.

Horgan said he’s directed the Health Ministry’s top civil servant, Stephen Brown, to sit down with the Doctors of B.C. to “chart a way forward so we can address some of the issues that are affecting access to GPs and affecting our primary care network. So I’m very pleased that that is underway.”


Watch Daphne Bramham’s Q&A with Doctors of B.C. president Dr. Ramneek Dosanjh and president-elect Dr. Josh Greggain. Subscribe today to secure your invite to our next reader-exclusive live Q&A.

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