'It's a crisis': Patients in need of family doctor wait hours in line
Published Wednesday, July 4, 2018 5:21PM PDT Last Updated Wednesday, December 11, 2019 9:56AM PST
Hopeful patients lined up for hours outside a Metro Vancouver practice on Wednesday – a clear indication of how desperately the province needs more family physicians.
A Coquitlam, B.C. practice allows those seeking doctors to line up on the first week of each month to become a patient at the Foothills Medical Clinic.
It's the only time the doctor's office accepts new patients. As one of the few facilities in the area allowing intakes right now, it's a popular offer.
Some potential patients arrived at the strip mall as early as 6 a.m. Wednesday and waited until 8. While the wait just to sign up may seem long, it's nothing compared to the months, or in some cases, years, they’ve been waiting to get a general practitioner.
Many in line told CTV News they or their loved ones have illnesses that require regular visits and consistent care. They believe the situation is getting worse.
"I was told yesterday that it's going to be intake today, and (to) come before 8 o'clock, so I was here at quarter to 8 and found over 50 people standing in the line," patient Kasia Cison said.
"My parents are elderly and our family doctor retired last October, and we've been trying to get a family doctor since then," said Camila Alvaraz, who joined the line at 7 a.m.
Alvaraz said in her native Peru, long waits are normal, but when her family came to Canada they thought service would be better.
While Canada has universal health care, many patients struggle to find a family doctor in B.C.
A doctor at the practice said he's aware of the ongoing problem.
"That's why I keep accepting new patients. It's a crisis and I don't see it getting any better," Darryl Ableman said.
The family physician said there are several factors contributing to the challenge of finding a doctor, including that doctors are retiring and there aren't enough new doctors to replace them. Also, incentives that used to encourage doctors to take on new patients have been cancelled.
The initiative was pulled when concerns were raised that doctors were rushing through appointments in an effort to see more people and make more money.
The effects aren't just being seen by those looking for family doctors. Last year, walk-in clinics were locking their doors well before closing time during an outbreak of influenza.
B.C.'s Medical Services Plan pays doctors a full rate for the first 50 visitors in a day, but the rate is cut in half for any additional patients. And if they see more than 65, they aren't paid at all, even if they work additional hours.
"There's not a whole lot of incentive in 2018 to accept new patients," Dr. Ableman said.
When asked about the problem on Wednesday, B.C. Premier John Horgan placed the blame on the Liberals.
"The previous government had a program that claimed that they would have a general practitioner for every patient in the province and they failed," the NDP leader said.
"We're trying to make amends by trying to provide different services for people in communities."
Earlier this year, Horgan announced his government planned to overhaul the existing health care system over the next three years. The government committed to fund 200 new GPs in a team-based model, which will link family practices with specialized and standard services.
The province said it would establish primary care networks in 70 per cent of B.C. communities. The hope is the new system will deliver faster and improved access across the province.
But Ableman says more needs to be done, and soon. Even his practice will have to stop taking new patients eventually.
In May, Health Minister Adrian Dix said 780,000 people living in B.C. do not have a primary-care doctor or nurse practitioner.
With a report from CTV Vancouver's Breanna Karstens-Smith and files from The Canadian Press