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BC NDP faces pressure over staffing crunch at urgent and primary care centres

Click to play video: 'Jobs go unfilled at B.C. urgent care centres' Jobs go unfilled at B.C. urgent care centres
British Columbia's primary care clinics were created to take the pressure off clogged emergency departments. But hundreds of nursing and medical jobs are unfilled, leaving the clinics turning away patients and facing a crisis of confidence among patients. Kylie Stanton reports – May 27, 2022

B.C.’s NDP government is facing new pressure around the province’s doctor shortage — this time aimed at understaffed urgent and primary care centres.

The B.C. government began rolling out the UPCCs four years ago, with the aim of keeping patients out of overtaxed emergency departments.

But facilities like the Victoria-area Westshore UPCC now face huge demand themselves.

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

“It’s a constant lineup for the most part. Its a rarity, even on the weekends to see the parking lot empty, there’s such a high demand and there’s not enough doctors,” said Nadine Brault.

Brault, who recently lost her family doctor, walks past the Westshore UPCC every day and says it’s not unusual for people to wait five hours for a simple prescription refill.

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“I don’t know the answer but someone shouldn’t have to come here and wait that amount of time,” she said.

The Westshore facility is approved for the equivalent of 7.2 full-time physicians, but currently only has one.

It’s not alone in facing staffing challenges. According to data from the Ministry of Health, province-wide B.C.’s 27 UPCCs are operating at 53 per cent of approved staffing levels.

Read more: Last-minute deal reached to keep Ucluelet, B.C.’s only clinic open for next 18 months

Facilities in the Fraser Health and Interior Health regions are operating at 62 per cent staffing, Vancouver Coastal Health at 55 per cent, Northern Health at 49 per cent and Vancouver Island Health at just 39 per cent.

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The BC Liberal Opposition says the statistics show the UPCC program has been botched.

“The implementation of this entire urgent primary care and primary care network initiative of the NDP government has been a failure,” BC Liberal House Leader Todd Stone told Global News.

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Nearly one million British Columbians are currently estimated to be without a family doctor, and B.C.’s NDP government has come under increasing pressure about finding a solution.

Retirements, retention issues, and the province’s fee-for-service model, which pays doctors a fixed rate per patient and requires them to operate a business on top of treating patients, have all been highlighted as core problems.

Read more: Western premiers call on Ottawa to discuss health-care dollars

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“There is inadequate primary care across this province right now,” Doctors of B.C. president-elect Dr. Jeff Greggain said.

“And not one single solution, whether that’s urgent and primary care or a multitude of other solutions, is going to solve all those challenges of this complex problem we’re in.”

Health Minister Adrian Dix acknowledged Friday that the province continues to face challenges attaching people to primary care, but defended UPCCs as a vital support through the pandemic.

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“Had we not had UPCCs the quality of life and quality of care for people would have been considerably less,” he said.

“Because they were open, because they stayed open, because they are in communities around the province, because they were open on weekends and the evenings made an enormous difference to people. I don’t think anyone can say 1.3 million visits in a period of pandemic … didn’t make a difference.”

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Dix said the province continues to work with doctors on rolling out additional primary care networks and on other solutions to the lack of access to family physicians.

It’s work that Brault said needs to happen sooner than later.

“It’s wonderful that (the UPCC is) here, and I’m grateful for that,” she said. “But not having a family doctor presently — there’s not a lot of options. And at this point in my life it’s really concerning.”

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