Two Greater Victoria children with an extremely rare auto-inflammatory disease will soon be depending on walk-in clinics or emergency rooms to monitor their condition, after their doctor announced an imminent departure last month.
It’s a prospect that has pushed their mother, Camille Currie, to launch a petition calling on the province to address the exodus and shortage of family doctors in B.C.
“Many individuals have been waiting for years to secure a family doctor, without success. Now, with recent news of more departures and closures on the Island and elsewhere, many more of us who were fortunate enough to have had a family doctor in our community are left without. Walk-in clinics are disappearing, and families are being abandoned in their care of the sick and the vulnerable,” Currie’s petition reads.
Her Langford family is among approximately 3,000 patients who will be impacted by the April departure of two doctors from Eagle Creek Medical Clinic in View Royal.
Professional association Doctors of B.C. estimates there are already 100,000 Greater Victoria residents without a family doctor.
“Somebody needs to speak up about it. Somebody needs to give this a voice,” Currie told Black Press Media.
The stakes are high for many people, but they’re especially high for the Currie family.
Currie’s husband, Shawn has the same rare auto-inflammatory disease as their children, Aidan and Mila. All three are on an experimental medication that reduces their immune systems and has to be monitored extremely closely.
Shawn’s specialists are in Greater Victoria, but because Aidan and Mila rely on pediatric specialists they have to travel to the B.C. Children’s Hospital in Vancouver every three to six months. In between those trips, the children need to check in regularly with a doctor who understands their condition.
Without a family physician, their options are fighting for a coveted walk-in clinic slot, or going to a potentially COVID-filled emergency room. Either way, Currie fears she won’t be given the time needed to explain her family’s unique condition and treatment plan.
“I’ll have to walk into the ER with a binder explaining our family and praying that somebody will give us just enough time or consideration to understand what it is and what is going on in their bodies,” she said.
Currie is doing everything she can to avoid this, starting with the provincial petition.
In it, she has five main asks for the B.C. government: to provide enough family doctors for each resident and walk-in clinics for each community; to develop more urgent and primary care centres; to increase pay for family doctors; to use the upcoming renegotiations of the Physician Master Agreement to ensure better attraction and retention of family doctors; and to expand alternative pay option models for family practices.
Leslie Keenan, interim executive director of South Island Division of Family Practice – a non-profit that supports family physicians and patients – agrees there are major issues that need to be addressed.
With the the number of people aged 65 and older in B.C. steadily increasing, there is a growing dependence on family doctors. At the same time, a greater number of doctors are also aging and retiring, Keenan said.
“And the landscape of primary care, the way it is right now, is not sufficient to attract a number of younger physicians,” she said.
The majority of family doctors still have to operate on a fee-for-service basis, where they are paid not by the hour or year, but per visit. On average, they make $30 per visit, but approximately 40 per cent of that goes to overhead costs, Keenan said. This means there is an incentive for doctors to squeeze as many visits as possible into a day – many allow only one health issue per visit be addressed – resulting in less time for patients and burnout for physicians.
With the province’s Physician Master Agreement set to be renewed in March, Currie believes there is an opportunity now to push for change. As of late Thursday afternoon, her petition had close to 1,800 signatures.
Currie admitted she isn’t the first person to try and shed light on the issue, but said she refuses to be stonewalled like those before her.
“I want the people in government to know that that’s not going to happen here. I’m going to pursue this until we see results.”
The petition can be found at change.org, by searching Bring Back our Family Doctors and our Walk-in Clinics.
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