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A Need For Family Doctors - why B.C.'s Urgent Primary Care Centre plan not working

Do you have a family doctor? Have you tried looking for one recently?

The headlines last week railed against another ill-conceived plan of the provincial government.

This time, the plan was to incentivize new medical school graduates to go into family practice. The graduating class came out with an open letter demanding consultation and clarification before June 30.

The Doctors of B.C. and the B.C. Family Doctors were not consulted on this and were as surprised as the graduates at the news.

Words like “surprised,” “shocked,” “insulted” and “disrespected” were used in describing the announcement.

We can all agree something needs to be done. We are in a family doctor crisis, and most of us know friends and family actively looking for a doctor. In fact, the estimates for the Okanagan are that 45,000 residents are now looking for a family doctor.

It gets worse. I recently met with a family doctor who could count at least 16 additional Okanagan family doctors who will retire in the next year. Most looked for a replacement for their practice for at least three years and did not find one.

What does that mean for our community?

Another 25,000 people will lose their doctor when he or she retires, and the total number in the Okanagan without a doctor will skyrocket to 70,000.

We need primary care. Studies show that the more robust the primary care — family doctors — the less use of acute care , such as hospitals, emergency rooms and ambulances there is. Additionally, and this is the most important point, primary care is the number one way to increase the health of patients and reduce the risk of dying—preventative medicine as opposed to reactive medicine.

Having a family physician is a matter of life and death. So where have they all gone?

Family practice doctors asked for changes. The current way they are paid no longer is financially feasible and it no longer works for how patients want to be treated.

We need big changes - and we needed them yesterday.

This need for change has been exacerbated by the costly and failed Urgent Primary Care Centers (UPCCs).

The only UPCC in the entire valley that is fully staffed is in Kelowna. The UPCC in West Kelowna is only open for a few hours a day.

Under the provincial government, UPPCs do not allow patients to be permanently attached to doctors and they simply operate as mini emergency rooms.

UPCC’s are not a substitute for primary care and they are costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars to operate annually.

The massive acceleration of unattached patients looking for family doctors happened when these UPCCs started hiring family doctors away from private practice.

So where do we go from here?

We need this government to listen, to hear the voices of the doctors with active practices, to listen to those doctors who are already in the trenches and have the answers.

Instead, the Minister of Health keeps delivering edicts and taking victory laps on spending (the highest spending in history) but he is not delivering results. Spending without results is not success, it’s waste.

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