A Langford mother, whose family is facing a rare auto-inflammatory disease and recently lost access to its family doctor, has taken her fight for health care improvements to the B.C. legislature.
Camille Currie’s petition, calling for better access to family physicians, currently has more than 12,000 signatures and put Health Minister Adrian Dix on the political hot seat Tuesday.
Currie’s daughter Mila, 12, son Aidan, 14, and husband Shawn are all on experimental medication for the rare disease-causing mutation. The teenagers see a paediatric specialist in Vancouver and need a family physician in Greater Victoria to respond to their increasingly complex health care needs.
But they and 3,000 other patients will be without a doctor in April with the closure of Eagle Creek Medical Clinic in View Royal. They are just some of the almost one million British Columbians currently without a family doctor.
“The loss of our family doctor, what that means for us is that every time that they come down with something now, because of this medication they need to be on, we’re facing going to the ER and bringing with us our three inch thick binder that lists out all of the specifics of their condition, the specifics of their medication, and having to explain to someone in the ER or at an urgent care center, what basically what this is about, what this disease and what this medication means for them,” Currie told CHEK News on Tuesday.
“It’s a lot of extra effort. It’s a lot of time spent. And unfortunately, also sometimes those doctors don’t have the time to give us for that explanation. And they may make hasty decisions that aren’t as well informed as our family doctor would have been.”
Currie said she’s been trying for months to find a replacement family physician but none exist. Three Victoria-area medical clinics announced their closure in January, with physicians complaining about poor pay and the high cost of running a clinic.
“The options right now are quite frankly zilch,” said Currie, who also represents advocacy group BC Health Care Matters. “There’s just nobody taking waitlists and there’s no options right now.”
Having to take her immunocompromised family to the emergency room, where COVID patients may be present, is frightening, said Currie. She said Urgent and Primary Care Centres, new creations of the current government in which teams of nurses and other health care professionals attempt to fill the void of missing family doctors, aren’t working.
A new centre in Esquimalt has been unable to find a family physician to link with patients, and other clinics have reported family doctor recruitment problems as well.
“More times than not, we show up and the sign is already out that says at capacity,” said Currie.
“So right away, it becomes a non-issue. It’s not even an option for those days when we’ve tried to go. And other times, it results in having to stand outside and to wait, wait your turn in a long line and hope that when you get to the front that again, you don’t get told that they’re at capacity. So it hasn’t been a very effective system.”
At the legislature, Opposition leader Shirley Bond endorsed Currie’s petition, which came with recommendations that government better provide support existing family doctors to convince them to stay, as well as explore alternative compensation options and improve the Urgent and Primary Care Centre model.
“Over 12,000 people have signed a petition expressing their deep frustration and calling on this government to take expedited action,” said Bond.
“Camille Currie, who started that petition, is in the gallery today. I would urge the Premier and the minister to read the preamble that she provided. It is thoughtful. It is compelling, and it provides ideas and suggestions for the government to take immediate action.”
Dix defended his government’s shift to integrated team-based clinics, saying it is the future of medicine.
“Urgent and primary care centres, which we started in 2017, with more than a million visits, have played an important role in providing people the care that they need, he said.
“That is the response. In the 20th century, sole practice family practitioners were the centre of our primary care system. Now it’s team-based care and the significant investment — urgent and primary care centres, primary care networks, hundreds of new staff.”
Opposition Liberals continued to hammer government on the issue, noting it has failed to open a promised second medical school at Simon Fraser University’s Surrey campus, and failed to expedite the certification of foreign-trained physicians who want to work in B.C.
“We’ll say it again: 900,000 people do not have access to a family doctor in B.C. today,” said Opposition mental health critic Trevor Halford.
“That number has increased over 200,000 since 2017. It’s getting worse. It is not getting better. There are 2,600 doctors nearing retirement across this province. When these practices close, they are going to have enormous impacts on every single constituency.”
Dix admitted the doctor shortage is a problem across the country.
“The actions are specific: 27 new urgent and primary care centres, 54 new primary care networks, an increase in the number of family physicians — which is more than any other jurisdiction in Canada per capita and more than the increase in population,” he said.
“New community health centres and more than 800 new FTEs, meaning full-time jobs, assigned to those primary care networks and urgent and primary care centres. That is significant action, and more action needs to be taken.”
Currie, who watched Dix answer the questions in the public gallery of the legislature, said she left unhappy with his responses. In particular, she wants to know how the cost-per-patient in an Urgent and Primary Care Centre compares to the traditional private practice, as well as government’s larger plans to address the frequent closures of clinics.
“It’s not reasonable, it’s not acceptable,” she said. “And I don’t feel like he addressed today how he’s going to provide solutions to those problems.”