Surrey Memorial Hospital's expanded emergency was reporting crowding soon after it opened.

Annual health care crisis grips B.C.

Patients flood ER each winter expecting flu treatment that doesn't exist, walk-in clinic service or relief from bad judgment

VICTORIA – The annual ritual of declaring a crisis in health care is upon us, with the B.C. Liberal government boasting that we have the best system in Canada, while the NDP and the B.C. Nurses’ Union try to portray it as the worst.

The BCNU is the last big public sector union still to settle in the latest round of contract talks. Feeding horror stories to the media is part of its strategy, and this time it was a patient at Abbotsford Hospital assigned a bed in a small shower room for a month due to chronic overcrowding. Hospital officials said his care wasn’t compromised.

We’ve seen it in Abbotsford, Surrey and elsewhere: a new hospital or expansion is built and is immediately overcrowded. We are reminded every winter that influenza season brings a wave of people into emergency, expecting treatment for a viral infection that in most cases can only run its course.

The problem peaks around Christmas, when more patients than usual use ER as their walk-in clinic.

Many people still don’t understand what “the flu” is, beyond the notion that it sounds serious enough to tell the boss you won’t be in to work. And as fewer doctors choose the endless demands of family practice, the expectation that all problems must be dealt with quickly and for free seems to grow as inexorably as the health care budget.

An emergency physician of my acquaintance provided a typical scenario for night shift at the ER. Where once nights were quiet, now there are patients waiting for hours, around the clock.

Several are drunk, and one has urinated on the floor. Surveys show as many as half of ER visits are alcohol-related, from overdoses to fights, falls, car crashes and chronic conditions.

Into this chaos comes a mother with her young child, who has nasal and chest congestion. The child’s cough led her to throw up, so off to ER they went, blithely assuming that this is where you bring a kid with a cold.

This week’s B.C. budget brings us a step closer to the moment when half of all provincial revenues go to keep the health care system running.

In the legislature, NDP health critic Judy Darcy blasted Health Minister Terry Lake for the government’s failure to keep its 2010 promise to find everyone in B.C. a family doctor.

Lake allowed they’re still working on that, and then plugged the latest Conference Board of Canada study showing B.C. ranks third in the world in health care outcomes, second only to Switzerland and Sweden.

Darcy, a former executive of the Hospital Employees’ Union, was quick to respond: “This is surely a first in question period, the Minister of Health going back to the record of the NDP government in the 1990s, because we’ve had the best health outcomes in Canada since 1993. The fact is that we exercise more, we smoke less and we drink less, and that’s to the credit of British Columbians.”

We also have more elderly people, as Premier Christy Clark argued in 2011 when the federal government changed its financing formula.

After years of increasing transfers by six per cent per year, the late federal finance minister Jim Flaherty announced that starting in 2014, increases would be tied to economic growth, but wouldn’t fall below three per cent.

This of course was treated as a cut, rather than continued increases above inflation. But there it is, and all provinces have to deal with it.

Darcy is quite right that personal responsibility is the key, something to remember as the usual squabbling of special interests continues.

Tom Fletcher is legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Twitter: @tomfletcherbc

 

Just Posted

Yoga takes over Legislature lawn

International Day of Yoga celebration runs Friday from 6 to 7:30 p.m.

No boozing while BC Ferries cruising

Planned June launch for alcohol sales delayed

UPDATE: Victoria teen killed on field trip near Sooke

Second youth also injured in incident at Camp Barnard

Saanich school grapples with death of 13-year-old

Teenager died after being struck and pinned by tree while on a field trip near Sooke

UPDATE: Firefighters bring Sooke wildfire under control

Firefighters responded to a wildfire that burned an area about 100 by… Continue reading

VIDEO: Rare white killer whale captured by drone near Campbell River

The transient orca has been named Tl’uk, a Coast Salish word that means ‘moon.’

RCMP deploys special unit in Comox Valley to combat organized crime

Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit spends four days targeting organized crime in Courtenay

B.C. imposes interim moratorium on resource development to protect caribou

The caribou population in northeastern B.C. has dwindled over the last two decades

Students disciplined after anti-LGBTQ signs posted in Kamloops high school

Vessy Mochikas, SD73’s principal for inclusive education, called incident a learning opportunity

Air Canada expects Boeing 737 Max to resume flying by September or October

Air Canada isn’t worried about safety of the planes, says vice-president

‘The Fonz’ gives thumbs up in letter to dyslexic students at B.C. school

Students in Maple Ridge reached out to Henry Winkler after reading one his Zipster books.

PHOTOS: MP Mark Warawa loses brief battle with cancer

The Conservative Member of Parliament and long-time community advocate died in hospice this morning

Commercial fishers in B.C. now required to wear life-jackets on deck: WorkSafeBC

WorkSafeBC reports 24 work-related deaths in the commercial fishing industry between 2007 and 2018

Most Read