The Minister of Health knows that solving the family doctor crisis is a priority of my constituents. With more than 800,000 British Columbians, 15,000 in my riding, we are now seeing growing inequity in access to a family doctor and comprehensive primary health care.
I asked Minister Adrian Dix whether he believes in equitable access to universal primary healthcare.
As the Minister of Health will know, access to a primary health care service in Saanich North and the Islands is impossible. In fact, the situation is getting more challenging as doctors in my riding are retiring. Access to a family doctor was a top priority of mine in 2017 when I was first elected, and I hosted the minister to a town hall in Sidney. Now five years later and thousands of my constituents still do not have a relationship with primary health care service.
This government put in some effort into creating a primary care network and urgent care clinics, but there are still more than 800,000 British Columbians without a family doctor. That’s nearly 15,000 in my riding alone. The urgent care clinics are not meeting the needs of our community.
The minister knows that without consistent, reliable primary health care, the result is negative long-term outcomes for my constituents and an increased burden on the public health system. I’m interested in knowing: does the Minister of Health believe in the equitable service of health care to all British Columbians?
Hon. A. Dix:
The member will know, because we’ve worked together on some of these issues in his constituency and the south Island, the commitment of the government to addressing primary care in our communities. It’s meant, for example, an increase well above the increase in the population in family practice doctors across B.C. It has meant primary care networks — four in the Victoria primary care networks, two in the south Island, which includes his constituency — which are significant investments in primary care across the south Island.
So $70 million just for primary care, just in the south Island. That’s four PCNs in Victoria, two in the south Island, five urgent and primary care centres, three community health centres — which is a model that had not been encouraged for quite a long time, but we worked together with communities to do — and a team-based, nurse practitioner–led centre in Victoria. These are significant efforts that show across the board the effort that needs to be made to do exactly what the member is talking about, which is to ensure people have access to primary care.
What’s also important, as he notes, are existing practices, and it is important to support them. That’s why primary care networks were developed with family practitioners, with the visions of family practice to meet those needs. Those challenges will continue, because as he notes, there are some challenges, especially in the south Island with populations of professionals aging as well as the broader population. It’s something that we have to continue to work together on to ensure people have equitable access to primary care.
Member for Saanich North and the Islands, supplemental.
Well the minister finally got to the point of the question, which was, I guess, to suggest that he believes in the equitable delivery of primary care to all British Columbians, which is important. Because despite all of the numbers that the minister just rattled off, the fact of the matter is that the situation in my constituency is not improving. In fact, it is getting worse and, in fact, across the province, there is a growing inequity in the access of primary care.
Last summer dozens of desperate constituents of mine, whose doctor’s clinic introduced a $50 “annual continuity of care allowance,” wrote me seeking my advocacy. While they reluctantly paid the fee to keep their service, they were right to point out that it goes against the promise of universal, equitable health care for all British Columbians. Other clinics are also looking at the option of these membership fees.
Now a multi-billion dollar corporation is getting into the business. Telus Health MyCare provides a virtual walk-in clinic billed to MSP insurance. But if you want a so-called premium service like annual screenings, preventative health and advanced diagnostics — services which used to be part of a basic primary health care — you would have to pay for that out of your own pocket.
So, what does the Minister of Health say to my constituents who are now being forced to pay a membership fee for basic primary health care?
Hon. A. Dix:
First of all, I would say that we brought into force in 2018 provisions of the Medicare Protection Act to protect people against extra billing. We did that because we fundamentally believe in public health care, just as we have done in his constituency in bringing home support back into the public system, in bringing workers back into the public system. Across the board, we have made those changes.
With respect to the question of employee-based plans where you see people paying for non-medically necessary services beyond the health care system…. The member may listen to that — what we’ve done, and what we’ll continue to do. We have in B.C. a Medicare Protection Act. We have a Medical Services Commission. Their job is to enforce that, and that very question I have referred to the commission to ensure that the law in British Columbia applies to everyone, everyone is treated fairly, everyone is treated equitably, and our universal health care system applies to everybody.