Thursday, May 26, 2016

Saanich News: Island residents need better access to family doctors

OPINION
Reprinted from the Saanich News, May 24 2016

This week I’d like to talk about an issue that affects us all: the lack of access to family doctors.
A family doctor is one of the best tools at your disposal when caring for the health of you and your loved ones. Regular check-ups performed by a general practitioner can catch many problems while they are still easily treatable. A family doctor will know both you and your medical history personally; this significant advantage is not available at walk-in clinics. A family doctor is a great first resource should trouble arise. They can refer you to specialists, ensure continuity of care and identify urgent or serious conditions.
And yet there are many people who desperately want and need a family doctor, but cannot find one. Currently there are 57 unfilled permanent family doctor positions available on Vancouver Island alone.
The current provincial government has repeatedly promised to address this problem. And they have repeatedly broken those promises.
In 2010 the provincial government promised to match every patient who wanted a family doctor with a general practitioner. That promise was broken. In their 2013 re-election campaign, the BC Liberals promised that if re-elected they would ensure all British Columbians would have access to a family doctor by 2015. That promise was also broken. In fact the situation has worsened: there are now more than 50,000 residents of southern Vancouver Island who do not have access to a family doctor.
Given this track record there is no reason to trust the current government’s latest promises or to believe they have the capacity to address the problem.
And the family doctor crisis is only part of the government’s health care mismanagement. Opposition health critic MLA Judy Darcy has done valuable work demonstrating the government’s failures. For example, wait times for surgeries are astronomically high – the second-worst in Canada for hip, knee and cataract surgeries.
The answer to our health care woes is not necessarily more money – taxpayers are already contributing more than $15 billion a year to our provincial health care system. We need these funds to be spent more efficiently. For example, the government is wasting taxpayers’ hard-earned money by not providing adequate primary care that catches preventable illnesses at the onset. This is one of the main reasons why family doctors are so important to our health.
Ultimately, British Columbians depend on our health-care system for a wide variety of needs. Fundamentally, we depend on family doctors as our ‘first line of defence.’ Simply abandoning a concrete promise that was made six years ago, as the provincial government did last month, is irresponsible and a profound admission of failure. We expect our provincial government to do better than this. Our health and even our lives are at stake. We need immediate action to address the lack of access to family doctors.
Thank you for reading and I look forward to hearing your opinions on this matter. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have concerns with provincial affairs or if you need assistance with the B.C. government. My phone number is 250-479-4154 and my email is lana.popham.mla@leg.bc.ca. I’m here when you need me.
Lana Popham is the MLA for Saanich South.