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BC Liberals push 30-day action plan for doctor shortage

“We're speaking to our members each and every day, and many of them are on the brink of leaving.”

The B.C. Liberal Caucus is, for the second time, calling for a 30-day action plan to “help tackle the primary care crisis” in British Columbia.

Kevin Falcon, the leader of the BC Liberals, is urging Health Minister Adrian Dix to make swift changes amidst news reports of emergency rooms being closed and people dying while waiting in care due to staffing shortages.

In Ashcroft, two people have died in less than a month while waiting for care. In July, a woman died waiting for a bed on a stretcher at Lions Gate Hospital in North Vancouver.

"I would describe [the current system] the same way the premier of the province has described it, which was crumbling. It may even be worse than that,” says Falcon, who first released an action plan on July 12 before re-releasing it with additional solutions this month.

"I hear from family physicians in every part of this province, and believe me, we have a major problem, and we need leadership and a plan to deal with this challenge.”

The action plan includes incentives to keep doctors from leaving the province or country by introducing a simplified billing code to reduce their paperwork and increasing payments to keep up with inflation. 

Falcon is also calling for an increase in the number of training spaces for doctors from the current 288 to 400 and to make it smoother for international doctors to start working. 

“A lot of those international medical graduates are actually Canadians that study abroad because they couldn’t get into UBC or they chose to study in Australia or Ireland or the United States, and they want to come back and practice in British Columbia,” says Falcon. 

In response to Glacier Media, a spokesperson for the B.C. government said the pandemic has exacerbated B.C.’s health care challenges.

"Our primary care system will not change overnight,” the spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “There is still more work to do; we will continue making the right investments to ensure all British Columbians have access to primary care delivered by our public health-care system.”

The B.C. government outlined several initiatives it’s launched since taking office related to health-care, including:

  • Adding 38,000 health-care professionals to the system since 2018
  • Opening 27 urgent and primary care centres (UPCC). There are another 23 UPCCs planned to be opened by April 2025.
  • Adding 602 nursing seats to post-secondary institutions in the province
  • Committing $2.3 million to support the Practice Ready Assessment BC program for international medical graduates

The BC Nurses’ Union vice-president Adriane Gear says the current state of B.C.’s health-care system is “in a crisis.” 

"My worry is that it's actually going to get worse. And I can't imagine what that would look like,” says Gear. “We're speaking to our members each and every day, and many of them are on the brink of leaving.”

Nurses are currently working copious amounts of overtime and facing constant redeployments to keep the system afloat, says Gear. 

The stress is even more undue when combined with reported increases in aggression and violence they’re facing in the workplace from patients.

Gear wants bold action focusing on recruiting nurses and retention tactics to keep the ones currently working to “stop the bleeding.”

"Nurses, frankly, feel gaslighted sometimes that it's not being fully acknowledged just how dire the situation is,” says Gear. “And that in itself is so distressing.”

Dr. Atul Kapur, a Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians spokesman, agrees that one of the most significant gaps in the health-care system is the lack of nurses.

“We’ve been sounding the alarm about shortages of physicians and nurses for quite some time,” Kapur said, adding the temporary closure of emergency rooms is particularly troubling in rural areas because of the distance to the next hospital.

Kapur hopes Canada’s premiers will push to prioritize the recruitment and retention of health-care professionals — and not just in the short term.

The premiers are meeting in Victoria early this week, where one of the items they’ll be addressing is a call on the federal government to increase its share of health-care spending from 22 to 35 percent. 

- With files from the Canadian Press