In the past year I have asked the Minister of Health (Hon. Adrian Dix) about the significant challenges my constituents are having getting access to a family doctor. (Oct. 22/18 – What about the family doctor crisis?, Apr. 8/19 – Addressing the crisis in primary care)
The BC NDP government has been working with a variety of healthcare professions to develop team-based primary care networks to address the crisis we are facing in Saanich North and the Islands, Greater Victoria and across the Lower Mainland.
I have met with Minister Dix on a few occasions to discuss this situation. I have received assurances that his Ministry is working through the complex issues to resolve the shortage of family practice physicians and gaps in the overall delivery of primary care.
As another legislative year is coming to a close, and my constituents continue to contact my office outlining the growing desperation in our communities, I asked Minister Dix about both our local issues and his overall vision of his program for primary healthcare.
PRIMARY HEALTH CARE SERVICES
ON SOUTH VANCOUVER ISLAND
Over a year ago, I asked the Minister of Health for realistic timelines about when community members in my riding will start to see real solutions to the shortage of primary health care services in Saanich North and the Islands. In his response, he mentioned that one in six British Columbians was without a family doctor. He also promised that a primary care network would be established in several areas in the province, including the Saanich Peninsula, within the year.
In April of this year, I asked again the Minister of Health about the health care crisis in my riding and many other areas in the province. His response was that government was hiring hundreds of family practice doctors, nurse practitioners and clinical pharmacists to ease the crisis.
At the time, the minister was quite optimistic about getting new primary care networks established around the province and, in particular, specific areas of the province experiencing acute shortages. In my riding today, the most substantial work relieving pressure has been done by non-profit organizations.
My question is to the Minister of Health. On the ground, my constituents are not seeing results. They’re having difficulty accessing primary care services. What is the delay in changing the outcomes for people on the Saanich Peninsula and across greater Victoria?
Hon. A. Dix:
Of course, I was very proud yesterday to be joined by the Minister of Finance in announcing a new urgent and primary care centre in James Bay, which will have a real affect on people in the area. It’s one of 11 in operation, 14 that we have announced, that are making a real difference, particularly in communities around British Columbia.
I want to note particularly the extraordinary work by doctors and nurse practitioners and nurses in Prince George, who developed their primary care network working hand in hand with an urgent and primary care centre that’s making a real difference for people.
Here on the south Island, we’re also taking steps. The member will know that on November 22, which is just recently, the final proposal around the South Island Division of Family Practice proposal was submitted. We’re taking specific steps and specific action.
We’re working with doctors and nurse practitioners and the community — not imposing, but working with them. That will lead to lasting solutions.
I’m very proud of the work of the South Island Division of Family Practice, very proud of the work of the Ministry of Health for making progress. We hope to have announcements soon.
The member for Saanich North and the Islands on a supplemental.
I thank the minister for his response. Earlier this summer — the situation was dire — in the Times Colonist, doctors were saying that primary care in the greater Victoria area was on the verge of collapse.
I’ve met with a wide variety of health care practitioners in my riding to discuss the situation that’s going on in their offices. Health professionals are exhausted, exasperated and feeling underappreciated. The system is overburdened, and practitioners are burning out.
Since those questions last year, I’ve had a constant flow of communications from my constituents, who are equally exhausted and exasperated and feeling as ignored as those in the health care system that we rely on. Patient attachment to a primary health care home is important. However, it is just a single metric. It’s equally important that we not forget some of these more deeply intimate relationships with our health care professionals. We must focus on the quality of life for both patient and practitioner.
Again to the Minister of Health, how is the vision of his transformation of our primary health care system addressing not only patient attachment to practitioners but also ensuring that they have a quality of life and a health care system that’s meeting the needs in our community?
Hon. A. Dix:
Yes, I think, in particular, young doctors have a different view of the way their practices should go. Overwhelmingly, for example, in surveys we take of young doctors, there’s a desire to move to alternate payment models and fee-for-service. But both are essential parts of our system.
In the last year, for example, 338 new fee-for-service general practitioner doctors have been added in British Columbia. Over the past year, 129 alternate payment plan doctors have been added. Now, significant numbers, of course, are retiring as well. But that is 140 net-new doctors in 2018-19.
That doesn’t mean that we’re able to deal with all of the challenges out there. But what we’re doing is adding urgent and primary care centres. In this area of the province in particular, the most successful urgent primary care centre is in Langford.
We’re adding primary care networks. I cite the ones in Prince George, the ones in Penticton that are working and making extraordinary transformational change at a local level. The support for community health centres, such as Island Sexual Health and many in the member’s riding, which have helped sustain, support and advance community health centres.
This is a comprehensive plan, and we’re doing it methodically — step-by-step, community-by-community — working with local divisions of family practice so we’re dealing with the problems — the problems faced both by patients and doctors in the system.
I think it’s an effective response. We are doing it, as I say, in partnership with divisions of family practice. It’s why I don’t think there has ever been, overall, as good of a relationship between the provincial government and doctors. I remind the member that 98.5 percent of doctors approved our latest negotiated agreement in British Columbia, which is an extraordinary success.