Yet another walk-in clinic in the Victoria area is closing its doors for good, leaving hundreds more residents looking for access to primary care in the city.
The James Bay Medical Treatment Clinic is the third to announce a closure in as many weeks.
“A lot of people that currently found they were able to see a regular doctor will no longer have that option, and some more people that did not have a regular doctor but used those clinics as walk in options, will also lose that possibility,” Damien Contandriopolous, acting director of the University of Victoria’s Institute on Aging and Lifelong Health, told Global News.
“Overall, lower access to primary care services in the city.”
There are already an estimated 100,000 people without access to primary care in the capital region.
While there has long been talk of a “doctor shortage” in the province, Contandriopolous said the problem is more nuanced than that,
According to the Canadian Institute of Health Information, as of 2020, B.C. had 134 doctors per 100,000 population, above the national average and more than Ontario — which Contandriopolous said reports higher satisfaction with access to care.
But family doctors are increasingly getting out of the business of operating brick and mortar clinics, he said — tired, stressed, and unsatisfied with entrepreneur-focused the fee-for-service pay model.
“You put all this together and you have an exodus of family doctors,” he said. “They’re not being abducted by aliens, but they’re voting with their feet to do something else.”
According to Contandriopolous, that something else is often going to work for corporate health providers that specialize in online and virtual care.
“It’s very bad news for anyone who needs a physical examination. Online has a place … but it’s not everything. Probably the majority of primary care visits require a face-to-face, in-person encounter.”
Health Minister Adrian Dix acknowledged there was work to do in ensuring access to care, particularly in the South Island region.
He said the government had been focused on the issue since coming to power in 2017, and pointed to the rollout of dozens of urgent and primary care centres and primary care networks around the province in recent years.
“You see that and a move to team-based care systems allowing a variety of health-care professionals to work to the extent of their skills,” Dix said.
“It’s not just creating new services, which do support us and have been invaluable during the COVID-19 pandemic and building out team-based care, but it’s also important to stabilize the system. That work is being done with local doctors now.”
Dix said the province was supporting and funding proposals for primary care networks put forward by doctors and nurse practitioners in 50 communities around B.C.
The Opposition BC Liberals say the government is not doing enough on the file, and that there needs to be more focus on recruitment and retention.
Interim Leader Shirley Bond said the longer that takes, the more patients who could fall through the cracks.
“We know people are very frightened about whether or not they’re going to get the care that they need and deserve in British Columbia,” she said.
In the meantime, it is expected the Greater Victoria could see more clinic closures.
That’s enough to worry researchers like Contandriopolous.
“It leaves people in dangerous situations,” he said. “Not being able to see a doctor in a timely manner is potentially deadly, and lots of studies have shown this.”