Clinic closure marks demand for more doctors

Vernon is being highlighted as one of the many communities suffering from a doctor shortage

Vernon is being highlighted in a province-wide demand for more family doctors, using the recent closures of walk-in clinics.

The city’s original walk-in clinic, Gartree Medical Clinic in the Vernon Square Mall, closed its doors March 24. That follows the March 2016 closure of the Vernon Family Doctors Medical Clinic in the Fruit Union Plaza. While the Sterling Centre Clinic on 25th Avenue opened in 2016, it is only open weekdays noon to 7 p.m. and on weekends and holidays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Vernon’s other remaining clinic is the North Okanagan Medical Clinic at the Real Canadian Superstore, open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week (note that it is closed early at 5 p.m. for the Easter weekend, Friday through Monday).

But Vernon’s troubles are not unique, it is a province-wide trend.

Therefore the Walk-in Clinics of BC Association is launching a petition calling on the government to train, recruit and retain more family doctors in British Columbia. The petition will be launched today at the 2nd Annual Walk-in Clinics of BC Association Conference in Burnaby.

“It is clear there is a critical shortage of family doctors in B.C.,” said Mike McLoughlin, founding director and conference convenor.

“Walk-in clinics are closing because they cannot get the physicians to staff their schedule.”

As an example, Seafair Medical in Richmond shut its doors last Friday after serving Richmond for 25 years as a community walk-in clinic.

“This is happening all over the province”, says McLoughlin.

“In the past year, two clinics have closed in Victoria, two in Kelowna, two in Vernon and the last walk-in clinic on the north shore in Kamloops, NorKam Health, stopped seeing walk-in patients also last Friday.”

All told, 45 clinics have closed or closed their access to walk-in patients over the past five years.

“This is an unprecedented crisis in primary care in British Columbia. The government needs to take immediate action to retain the existing compliment of doctors and make training and recruitment of more family doctors a top priority in the upcoming election,” said McLoughlin.

According to Healthmatchbc website, in 2016, there were at least 447 postings for family doctors, up 27 percent over 2015. The net increase in new family doctors in B.C. during the same time period according to the BC Physician resource manual was 157 doctors, a difference of 290 doctor vacancies sitting empty.

“Clearly the supply of new doctors is not keeping up with demand. This is having a ripple effect throughout communities in the province. Line ups are common at walk-in clinics. Emergency departments are over flowing,” said McLoughlin.

“It is true there are more doctors registered in B.C. than ever before, but pointing that out is unhelpful because it is clear the number is not sufficient to address the need.”

The petition calls on the government to provide better access to primary care by supplying more family doctors, eliminating red tape that limits doctors from delivering daily services and engaging with local communities to provide better access to care closer to home.

The petition will be distributed to walk-in clinics throughout the province.

Signatures will be gathered on an ongoing basis.

Local MLA’s will be asked to present the petition to the legislature every time a clinic gathers a significant number of signatures.

The association has over 300 clinics in its directory, in almost every constituency in the province. The campaign will run until the shortage of family doctors is addressed.

The petition campaign will be launched Friday at the second annual ‘Very Valuable Service’ Conference in Burnaby at the Hilton Vancouver Metrotown. The conference features speakers from across Canada including Andre Picard, health columnist for the Globe and Mail. Tickets are still available at the conference website http://www.bcwalkinclinicsconference.org

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