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Vancouver Island officials call on the province to treat doctor shortage

About a third of Saanich Peninsula residents were without their own GP in 2019
Coun. Niall Paltiel of Central Saanich encourages the public to share their stories about the medical system after council passed a motion calling on the province to treat the shortage of general physicians with ‘urgency’ as if it were any other emergency. (Black Press Media file photo)

The shortage of family physicians is undermining quality of life on Vancouver Island and officials say it’s time the provincial government does something about it.

“Our residents are crying out for medical coverage and it’s not falling on deaf ears around the council table and we are doing anything and everything we can,” Central Saanich Mayor Ryan Windsor said.

Windsor’s council recently passed a motion asking municipalities across the Island to join it in asking the province to “re-think” its policies concerning family physicians. The motion specifically asks the province to “address this crisis with the urgency of any state of emergency” in working with Doctors of BC and Divisions of Family Practice, non-profit groups that bring family doctors together, “for a solution that will rebuild the family practice system so that citizens of B.C. can be confident of having a doctor to call their own.”

RELATED: West Shore walk-in clinic closing due to chronic physician shortage

Figures from Island Health dating back to 2019 show approximately 65 per cent of the Saanich Peninsula population attached to a general practitioner. That number jumps to about 75 per cent when taking into account those attached to a group practice with general practitioners and nurse practitioners. Looking further back in time, 2017 data shows an Island Health provincial attachment rate of 78.6 per cent and a provincial rate of 76.5 per cent.

These raw numbers tell only part of the story. They say nothing about the various barriers which locals may have to cross to access these physicians in a timely manner with knock-on effects for local emergency rooms. Also looming are demographic changes that will see fewer working physicians care for an aging population.

It is against this broader backdrop that Central Saanich Coun. Niall Paltiel is encouraging residents to share their stories.

“If you have got a personal experience or concern, raise it with your MLA (or) through the ministry of health and make sure that you are adding to the collective group of voices that are asking for a change or re-think to our current system.”

Advocacy by municipalities can lead to changes by the provincial government, said Paltiel, pointing to the municipality’s role in shaping legislation around golf courses on land in the Agricultural Land Reserve.

“We are one local government, but at the same time, I do feel there this is an impetus now in advocating for residents on this provincial issue,” he said. “I feel that the lack of change and the lack of traction coming out from the province is definitely something we need to highlight and add our voice toward.”

Paltiel predicts that other municipalities will add their voice as well. “As the challenges within the health care system escalate, as will the calls to change it.”

Sarah Bragg, president and CEO of the Saanich Peninsula Hospital and Healthcare Foundation, which has been instrumental in a number of initiatives to improve primary care including its involvement with Shoreline Medical Society, said in a statement to Black Press Media that access to primary care is now the most pressing concern for communities throughout the province.

“(Its) effects are felt by residents everywhere on the Peninsula,” she said. “Saanich Peninsula Hospital and Healthcare Foundation would like to applaud the efforts of the Central Saanich council, for taking steps to help mitigate this healthcare crisis.”

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