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Demonstrators in Victoria call for province to address B.C.’s family doctor shortage

People with and without family physicians converge on Health Ministry office
Protesters gather outside the Ministry of Health Wednesday (Aug. 10) afternoon, calling on the provincial government to address the family doctor shortage. (Austin Westphal/News Staff)

Demonstrators took to the steps of the Ministry of Health building in downtown Victoria on Wednesday afternoon (Aug. 10) with a crystal clear message: everyone deserves a family doctor.

Camille Currie, founder of the organization BC Health Care Matters, said the provincial government can no longer afford to ignore the shortage of family doctors.

“We can’t continue to wait, we need action on this crisis now,” she told Black Press Media. “It’s affecting our primary care system. It’s affecting our hospitals. It’s affecting ambulances. It’s affecting everything in the health system, so for them to sit idle is no longer acceptable.”

According to the BC College of Family Practice, nearly one million British Columbians are without a family doctor. An additional 40 per cent worry about losing the doctor they currently have.

But the problem isn’t a lack of qualified medical professionals. There are plenty, in fact. B.C. has about 6,800 physicians trained in family medicine, yet only about half of them work as family doctors providing the cradle-to-grave care that’s becoming increasingly difficult to access.

Those who don’t practice family medicine often elect to specialize, work in a hospital or simply leave the province all together. That’s because they can’t make a fair wage that reflects their value to patients, according to Dr. Bridget Reidy.

Reidy, a practising family doctor and member of Family Doctors for Patient Care, was among the group of protesters calling on the province to take immediate action. If it doesn’t, she said, she’s unsure how much longer the healthcare system can remain afloat.

“Those of use who have family practice credentials can make two to three times more doing anything but primary continuing care. And that’s why 40 per cent of British Columbians are afraid that their doctors will quit,” she said.

“Continuing primary care saves more lives than specialty medicine … if you want to get a diagnosis of cancer, it requires more than one visit usually, it requires follow-up care. So even the healthy sometimes need continuing care.”

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