Hundreds rally at B.C. legislature calling for solution to family doctor shortage

Click to play video: 'Rally at B.C. legislature for better access to doctors'
Rally at B.C. legislature for better access to doctors
Several hundred doctors and health care advocates rallied at the Legislature, calling for faster government action to address the province-wide shortage of family doctors. Kylie Stanton reports. – May 19, 2022

Hundreds of people rallied on the grounds of the B.C. legislature in Victoria Thursday calling for a solution to the province’s doctor shortage.

The event, which included doctors and health-care advocates, was organized by the group BC Health Care Matters and scheduled to coincide with World Family Doctor Day.

Click to play video: 'West Kelowna rally calls for changes to increase access to family physicians'
West Kelowna rally calls for changes to increase access to family physicians
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“We’re tired of just hearing of promises of things to come. We want to see what is going to happen right now and what are you going to do now?” said organizer Camille Curie, who presented a petition with more than 42,000 signatures to the legislature.

“We are ready and willing to listen and meet at any time to talk about the tangible now solutions that our citizens and organizations deserve and need to see.”

The group says nearly one million British Columbians do not have a family doctor, and high demand at walk-in clinics has left people facing long wait times.

Click to play video: 'Health Matters: BC continues to deal with doctor shortage, clinic closures'
Health Matters: BC continues to deal with doctor shortage, clinic closures

Demonstrators are calling on the provincial government to create an action plan to address the shortage.

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Metchosin family physician Robert O’Connor was among the crowd Thursday and said he’d like to see three steps from the province immediately.

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“One is more education opportunities for people who wish to join the front lines. Number two is to have a compensation model such that young grads are able to both get a home and also pay their staff and expenses at the same time,” he said.

“And number three would be a long-term commitment to say ‘look, here’s a long-term plan for whatever it is, funding model, supports, so that young people can join a clinic and have confidence they’re here for the long term.'”

Medical student Mira Wade told Global News she’d been forced to apply to study in Ireland after twice being rejected by UBC’s medical school.

Being trained overseas means she’ll have a harder time getting a residency in B.C., she said, and she fears a lack of space in local medical schools will drive would-be doctors out of the province.

Click to play video: 'B.C. doctor shortage leds to fiery question period in Victoria'
B.C. doctor shortage leds to fiery question period in Victoria

“I would love to serve (Vancouver Island), I want to come back to my home and to meet the needs of my people in my community,” she said.

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“Unfortunately, I now have to compete for a place to come back to the island.”

Many attendees at the rally were dressed in black, indicating they do not have a family doctor.

Numerous demonstrators also carried signs lambasting the government for spending nearly $800 million on a new Royal BC Museum instead of putting the money into health care.

It was a contrast BC Liberal MLA Shirley Bond seized on in addressing the crowd.

“It is about priorities, it is about policy decisions, and a good start would be to cancel the billion-dollar museum project across the street and invest those dollars in supporting health-care professionals,” Bond said.

There are several issues underpinning the province’s family doctor crisis, including retirements and dissatisfaction among physicians with B.C.’s fee-for-service pay model.

Family physicians also say they need financial support to help cover the cost of running a small business, as well as a plan to get more doctors trained and accredited.

Click to play video: 'Addressing B.C.’s family doctor shortage'
Addressing B.C.’s family doctor shortage

Health Minister Adrian Dix said his government is aware of the challenges and is working with doctors on a resolution to their concerns.

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“The needs of young doctors who want to enter into family practice and see better opportunities elsewhere, we’ve got to make the case for family practice for young resident doctors,” he said.

“We have to do work on the nature and the business model of primary care, and a fee-for-service system where doctors are responsible for organizing their businesses isn’t very attractive to young doctors and is increasingly putting doctors who have been serving their patients for decades under pressure.”

Dix said his government had also added 600 family practice doctors since 2017 and had invested heavily in team-based care through new primary care networks around the province, but acknowledged there was still work to do.

– with files from Global News’ Kylie Stanton

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