Health care workers to rally over B.C. family doctor shortage

A rally is being held on the lawn of B.C.’s Legislature on Saturday afternoon to highlight the critical shortage of family doctors in the province.

The situation has been dire for a long time with no signs of improving in the short term. Dr. Jennifer Lush is a family physician in Saanich and tells CityNews the healthcare system can’t handle any more stress.

“If… all British Columbians had access to a family doctor again, we would find that health care access for everyone, as a whole, would be improved.”

Right now, about one million British Columbians don’t have access to a primary care provider.

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“Even those with family doctors are noticing that their health care access is suffering because the primary care crisis is having a domino effect, and we’re seeing increasing wait times outside of urgent primary care centres. We’re seeing flooded emergency rooms that are overwhelmed and having to close. We’re seeing longer wait times for specialists and all of those situations are being worsened by the shortage of family physicians,” Lush said.

She says desperate changes are needed to a system that for so long has been showing cracks in its foundations.

“There are short, medium, and long-term solutions. The key issue is we need to retain the family doctors we have to stop the crisis [from] getting any worse and we need to recruit family physicians back into community family medicine. We have almost 7,000 family doctors in B.C. but only 3,000 of us are practicing longitudinal care in the community, so we need to look at what the drivers of that situation are.”

Lush feels there are some fixes that can be made now and accuses the province of simply not doing enough.

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“Family physicians in the community need overhead support. The cost of running a practice has burgeoned and it’s harder and harder to keep the doors open, given that our income has not increased appreciatively. Family doctors can make up to twice as much by working in a hospital setting or an urgent primary care centre as they would if they work in the community.

“So, naturally doctors that come out of med school these days with $200,000 to $300,000 in student loan debt, they are forced to choose the career that is going to compensate them better, even if their heart and abilities and their training is really in community family medicine. These young doctors simply cannot afford to practice in community medicine,” Lush explains.

Once those two things are repaired and in place then Lush thinks the province needs to tackle licensing for foreign-trained doctors so they’re fast-tracked and can work in B.C. with more ease.

“We can work to reduce paperwork, which is tying up family doctors’ time, so they spend more time in administrative work rather than actually delivering patient care.”

She believes these solutions are reasonable and is calling on the province to step up.

Earlier this month the provincial government announced it had signed 54 newly graduated family doctors who had accepted new incentives to provide primary care, but that was met by critics in the medical field wondering where the rest are.

They signed a two-year contract that provides a boosted first-year salary of $295,457, a $25,000 signing bonus, medical training debt forgiveness of up to $50,000 for the first year and up to $20,000 for years two to five, and a $75,000 payment to go toward clinic overhead costs.

Meantime, negotiations between the B.C. government and doctors continue to drag on and CityNews has been told a new deal is set to be announced sometime this fall.

Saturday’s rally is set for 12 to 2 p.m. at the B.C. Legislature in Victoria.

-With files from Martin MacMahon and Charlie Carey

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