Doctor shortage frustrating south Island residents

Sidney man relates his struggles trying to get care at local walk-in clinics

A resident has written a letter to Minister of Health Adrian Dix, highlighting the “absurd” wait times and experience many patients without a family physician on the Saanich Peninsula currently experience.

Although thousands of people across B.C. pay the same taxes as their fellow citizens, like Jeremy Arney they are not experiencing the same level of care in what some are saying has become a healthcare lottery.

“For whatever reason, I have had two family doctors quit in the last five years,” he writes, adding, “as there is such a shortage of medical doctors in B.C. I have not been able to find a regular family doctor, as the few remaining have a full list of patients and are not taking on any more.”

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He goes on to explain how large numbers of patients have to rely on drop-in clinics, with one he recently attended in Sidney not accepting any more walk-in patients by 9 a.m.

To illustrate his difficulties, he says he went to another Peninsula clinic but found it delayed opening by four hours due to a lack of medical staff. Recently when he went there, there were 15 patients seated by 8:45 a.m., with another 20 in line.

So he tried another clinic and “had to wait for 165 minutes for a three-minute treatment.” He adds, “there were three receptionists, no nurses and one doctor who was simply swamped, and indeed was ready to leave a poorly equipped clinic, which was only one of the four she attends.”

As B.C. family physicians earn an estimated average annual income of $130,000 a year, compared to the average annual worker’s salary of $60,000, why aren’t family doctors flocking to fill the many vacancies?’

Doctors say there are two systems that pay doctors: fee-for-service and salary-based sessional models. Each has its advantages and drawbacks, but family physicians tend to use the fee-for-service model. However, the patchwork of systems doctors and care providers have to navigate doesn’t cover overheads, other staff salaries, pensions, building costs and equipment costs – or the large student loans many accumulate while in medical school. Each appointment pays $33 for patients under 50, and so all costs come proportionally out of that figure.

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Shawna Walker is the executive director of Shoreline Medical Society, a non-profit foundation that runs two clinics, providing the infrastructure for doctors and thus removing some of the cost burdens. It has 16 doctors working for it and is in the process of expanding its Sidney location. She notes the problem lies with a complex and unhelpful system.

“There is a doctor shortage across Canada,” she says, adding “but what are the constraints facing the Saanich Peninsula? Individual debt that a young person comes out of medical school with, and the cost of living in our area.”

Walker says the Medical Services Plan is complicated and layered, and foundations such as hers are having to operate within a framework constrained by government policy.

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“We have good people providing good care, but I think the infrastructure that helps all our healthcare providers has become, for lack of a better word, top heavy. Nearly 50 per cent of Canadian dollars goes into healthcare but it’s not filtering down to the patient.”

For more information on Shoreline Medical Society and its work visit shorelinemedical.ca.

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