December 11, 2015 - 9:32 AM
KELOWNA, B.C. - B.C. government incentives to attract doctors are leaving residents in some areas scrambling for care because physicians go to smaller communities, says a spokesman for an association of walk-in clinics.
Mike McLoughlin, who owns such a clinic in Kelowna, said operators in some parts of the province are reducing hours or even closing. He said one of three walk-in clinics in Vernon is expected to shut down in March because of a lack of doctors.
"We've now got doctors in some small communities who seem to have a lot of time on their hands," McLoughlin said. "But in bigger centres, the doctor shortage is as bad as ever and maybe getting worse."
Golden, which has a population of less than 5,000 people, has 10 doctors currently accepting new patients, he said.
However, only one doctor is taking new patients in the central Okanagan, home to 185,000 people, McLoughlin said.
Health Minister Terry Lake said the province can't tell doctors where they can practise.
"My own community of Kamloops is probably short 25 physicians," he said.
The government's attempts in the 1990s to dictate where doctors could work ended in a court ruling in the favour of physicians on constitutional grounds, Lake said.
More doctors are now graduating in several communities around the province, and incentives are an effort to draw others who've trained elsewhere, he said.
For example, doctors who practised in a foreign country are given some extra training in B.C., and required to work in an underserved community for two years.
Those who have attended medical school outside Canada must practise in communities where they're needed most for three years in return for training they've received in B.C., Lake said.
Lake said Clearwater, B.C., was down to one doctor before incentives brought two more physicians, and the community of Ashcroft, which has no doctors, will soon have two physicians.
"Will we ever get the perfect mix of physicians to the populations? Probably not."
However, Lake said the government is working with Doctors of BC to determine if some incentives have unintended consequences.
In the spring, the government expects to launch a pilot project in 14 communities around the province, including Kamloops and Kelowna, in an effort to provide needed care in so-called primary care homes.
Lake said such facilities will include a team of health professionals, including doctors, pharmacists, nurses and nurse practitioners.
Three years ago, the government launched a new program aimed at ensuring every British Columbian who wanted a family physician would have one by 2015. Earlier this year, Lake admitted the goal would not be met.
News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2015