B.C. doctors ask for help, support amid growing health care crisis

B.C.'s doctors and nurses are continuing their plea for help and support. The province is spending hours with them talking about change, but they say change to a system in crisis isn't coming fast enough. Liza Yuzda with more.

B.C.’s health care providers are continuing to press for help as they say the industry is teetering on the edge of collapse.

Primary care is the centre of many health care conversations, but some in the industry say the challenges are broad ranging. 

“I absolutely think at this point the health care system is at a critical juncture,” Dr. Ramneek Dosanjh, the head of Doctors of B.C, said.

“We are very concerned for our patients’ well-being, and for our physicians and nursing staff to continue to do the work at the level they’ve been doing without support, it is not sustainable.”

Staffing issues in some Emergency Rooms on Vancouver Island and the Interior have been so critical, that they’ve needed to temporarily shut them to new patients.

While this scenario isn’t as likely in Metro Vancouver, as they have access to bigger backup teams, Aman Grewal, vice president of the BC Nurses’ Union, says staffing issues across the board are leaving the system vulnerable.

“Just last week, I’ve heard from nurses at Lion’s Gate [Hospital] saying that their emergency department is in crisis,” Grewal said.

“Not only is patient care suffering, but the pressure of having to do more with less is having quite a profound impact on the nurses’ mental and physical health.”

Though the system may be in a dire situation, some say all hope is not lost as the province and providers are at the table together, working on a path forward.

“I do believe that we are in a collaborative space with our government partner right now, [and] that is a helpful space to be in,” said Dosanjh.

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B.C.’s Minister of Health Adrian Dix says the government is putting in the time with doctors to resolve the issues.

“What we’re doing is hours, and hours, and hours of face-to-face meetings with family doctors,” said Dix.

Coming out of the recent premiers’ meeting in Victoria, industry advocates were calling for an urgent national staffing strategy and national licensing so people can work across provincial borders.

While the pandemic showed health care can change swiftly, Dix says this is different.

“This is bigger and more substantial, because it’s a long-term problem, not an immediate problem, and we’re taking action, ” he added.

The province is trialing a lump sum offer for new family practice residents, in lieu of the common fee for service payment, but the plan did not receive rave reviews when revealed.

Dix says it’s too early to say how many will try the new offer, and overall agreements are being penned.

“We have a new Physicians Masters Agreement that is broader than family doctors, which is significant, that we are working now, ” Dix explained.

As the province and providers inch forward, tens of thousands of B.C. patients are without family doctors and as doctors struggle to keep their doors open, Dosanjh says change need to happen now.

“When I think about the actions [needed], I think about that they needed to be here yesterday.”

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A Delta man recently captured his long journey to see a doctor when he went to four different walk-in clinics in one day and none were able to offer him in-person care.

Saxon Justin Gough captured the footage from his wheelchair camera, as he says he spent hours going to the clinics last Friday seeking treatment for an ear infection.

“I was totally shocked … I was totally shocked,” said Gough. “I’ve dealt with the medical system my whole life, with my ailments, so I’ve watched it from when I was a kid to now and our system has collapsed.”

Gough says none of the clinics he visited were able to provide him with in-person care, although some offered him a doctor – over the phone.

“It doesn’t help me, you gotta look at me, physically examine me,” he explained.

Camille Currie, founder of BC Health Care Matters, says they have to examine if individuals are able to get the best care when they aren’t face-to-face.

“We have fears for both patients as well as the medical practitioners, because if they’re making diagnosis … and they aren’t able to see the person in [their] entirety, then there are things that they might miss,” said Currie.

She’s also worried about the challenges seniors may face trying to get virtual care.

“Residents of British Columbia need timely access to a family doctor, and right now, not everyone has that, and that includes those that have a family doctor as well as those that don’t,” said Currie.

– With files from Monika Gul

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