Joy Williamson is worried about how the closure of several walk-in clinics will impact the ability for people to get diagnosed correctly and in a timely fashion. (Bailey Moreton/News Staff)

Joy Williamson is worried about how the closure of several walk-in clinics will impact the ability for people to get diagnosed correctly and in a timely fashion. (Bailey Moreton/News Staff)

Vancouver Island cancer patient fears collateral damage of walk-in clinic closures

Lack of having a GP led to Joy Williamson’s tumour incubating 2 years before it was diagnosed

A Langford cancer patient says the doctor shortage and closure of walk-in clinics is putting her and other patients at risk.

Joy Williamson, 44, is undergoing treatment for breast cancer and has been without a general practitioner for nearly eight years. Around 18 months ago, she started chemotherapy for a tumour, overseen by a nurse practitioner who consulted with a doctor.

While she has since recovered and finishes her chemotherapy in a couple of months, the journey has been littered with challenges.

Williamson depended on walk-in clinics, or failing that, emergency rooms for assessments prior to her diagnosis while having to organize childcare for her two young children.

“I couldn’t even get into the walk-in clinic for a simple exam, I had to go wait in emergency for six hours,” she said. “It just puts more stress and more pressure on people who are already dealing with a lot.”

Blood work was also delayed by staff shortages at the LifeLabs location she visited.

It wasn’t until she started treatment that her oncologist told her the tumour had been incubating for two years before she was diagnosed. Without access to a general practitioner, the tumour got misdiagnosed or went largely unnoticed. That meant Williamson needed surgery in June 2021, right around the time the heat dome was straining the health-care system.

“I was in that big, open room for five or six hours with everybody being wheeled out from their surgery,” she said. “I was waiting there and not able to have the hospital bed, because of the heatwave there were no hospital beds available. It’s a pretty emotionally traumatic moment.”

With the doctor shortage resulting in closure announcements from several Greater Victoria walk-in clinics in recent weeks, she is worried other people will not get the treatment they need.

“That consistency is being lost, that’s when people get misdiagnosed and when people die,” she said. “I was really lucky to have gotten in when I did. “I’m afraid for my kids not having proper medical care in the future, I feel like it’s getting really bad,” she added. “It started long before COVID.”

Walk-in clinics at both Eagle Creek and the Colwood Medical Treatment Centre are closing as of April 15, citing doctor shortages, in part due to high overhead costs.

That leaves no privately owned walk-in clinics open on the West Shore, with only the Westshore Urgent and Primary Care Centre left.

The James Bay Medical Treatment Centre, which announced in December it would be reducing its capacity in anticipation of closing, is now providing limited services due to the temporary loss of one of its doctors.

Doctors BC estimates there are around 100,000 people in Greater Victoria without a family doctor.

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ClinicsHealthcareWest Shore