BC’s walk-in clinics are looking to the federal and provincial governments to see what can be done about a lot of pressure that is being put on them.
Mike McLoughlin is the founding director of Walk-In Clinics of BC and owns Medi-Kel family practice in Kelowna alongside his wife, and he explained that pressure is due to the difficulty of getting a family doctor. Kelowna is short an estimated 35 family doctors, meaning a large portion of the population instead relies on walk-in clinics as their primary health care service. McLoughlin noted Medi-Kel has 12,500 unattached patients that don’t have a family doctor that need that level of care, which puts a strain on their resources, just like at every other walk-in clinic in the province.
Walk-In Clinics of BC is taking steps to find a solution to the issues surrounding walk-in clinics, one of which was writing to Canada’s federal parties to see what their stances are.
“It’s not just a British Columbia issue, it’s a national issue,” McLoughlin described. “So what are the parties doing in regards to the shortage of family doctors, and what are they doing with regards to making it so we can have access to primary care in Kelowna?”
McLoughlin has heard back from the Liberals, who he said directed him to their platform. He expects that to be the case for the other parties as well, although he did note the NDP have a good idea.
“The NDP platform is a lot more specific than the other parties. They have some money they want to put into clinics across Canada, helping to support local health community clinics. That’s a good idea and I would support that. If we had a community clinic staffed by local general practitioners that could offer new immigrants, people just coming to Kelowna, retiring to Kelowna that don’t have a family doctor could be a place where they would end up. That would be a way of intake through that community clinic.”
Walk-In Clinics of BC was also in Victoria, where members spoke to the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government about the doctor shortage, and made three requests. The first is to put some flexibility on regulatory limits. As they currently are, the regulations are set up so that if a doctor sees 50 patients or more in a day they only get paid 50%, and after 65 patients they don’t get paid at all, which is the opposite of the way overtime generally works. McLoughlin would like to see those regulations change from a daily to cap to a weekly cap, as the role of walk-in clinics has changed in the past 10 to 15 years.
The second request was about making it easier for retired doctors to continue working. McLoughlin explained many doctors continue to work on a part-time basis after they retire, and making it easier for them to do that would help alleviate some of the doctor shortage. The final request was to find a way to enable walk-in clinics and family doctors to employ nurse practitioners, as family-owned and run institutions usually can’t afford them.
The final thing McLoughlin would like to see is to have Canada establish a health human resource strategy to have the provinces work together to fill doctor shortages, rather than fight over them all. He believes the governing bodies all need to come together to make sure the provinces have enough medical resources, and walk-in clinics have to be part of that strategy rather than being seen as on the fringe as they have in the past.