New provincial health care funding could take bite out of South Okanagan doctor shortage - InfoNews

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New provincial health care funding could take bite out of South Okanagan doctor shortage

Image Credit: ADOBE STOCK
April 29, 2019 - 4:18 PM

PENTICTON - The province's recent announcement of funding for up to 22 new health care providers in the South Okanagan and Similkameen is good news for those struggling to find a family doctor.

Health Minister Adrian Dix made the announcement prior to the official opening of Penticton’s new hospital tower earlier this month.

Six new doctors, five new nurse practitioners and 11 other health care providers, which includes registered nurses, social workers and pharmacists, will be paid for with an additional $4.4 million per year in funding over the next three years.

There are about 10,000 residents in Penticton and Summerland alone who don’t have a family doctor, according to a local family doctors' group.

South Okanagan Similkameen Division of Family Practice executive director Tracy St. Clair says some preliminary work done prior to the funding announcement involved looking at how many people needed a doctor or nurse practitioner in the region, then looking at how many professionals were needed to fill the void.

St. Clair says the creation of a primary care network will provide the region with access to contracts for the doctors, nurses and health care providers, in addition to providing the means to build teams within doctors' offices.

“I think by being able to access contracts, that helps to attract more practitioners and physicians into our area that will result in more patients having the ability to access a primary care provider,” she says. “It’s something we haven’t seen in the past. Other provinces have been doing this, but it’s new to B.C."

Traditionally, doctors in British Columbia work under a pay for service system, but other provinces have been switching to a contract system, which is popular with new graduates.

St. Clair says nurse practitioners can only come in under contract, and up until now, access to contracts for nurses had been limited.

“The fact we will have access to five nurse practitioners’ contracts is quite significant,” she says.

St. Clair says once the network is established, it could mean a social worker might work in a doctor’s office, taking care of a patient that might need counselling or some other service the social worker can provide, thereby freeing up the doctor or nurse practitioner to see other patients.

The new doctors will have their own group of patients to care for.

With funding available, the next challenge will be enticing health professionals to come to the South Okanagan in a country where many regions are suffering shortages.

“We do our best to try and make communities attractive to bring more care providers to our region, but we’re in stiff competition with a number of communities across Canada,” St. Clair says.


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