A plan to give every British Columbian access to a family doctor, announced Friday by Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid, will bring fundamental changes to the delivery of health services.
“In our partnership with the B.C. Medical Association, we are rolling out a comprehensive suite of supports and incentives that are going to help improve primary care,” she said in Vancouver.
The program — called A GP for Me — will enable patients to consult with doctors over the telephone, a move expected to reduce the time needed for a consultation. The plan also calls for recruiting new doctors, additional incentives for family doctors to take on more frail and vulnerable patients, establishing more clinics, and increased use of other health care workers to reduce the workload faced by doctors.
A GP for Me will be launched April 1, MacDiarmid said.
Much of the $100 million for A GP for Me, along with $32 million for a new program to support patients receiving hospital care from family doctors, will come from the physician master agreement negotiated by the government and BCMA last year.
MacDiarmid said A GP for Me advances the government’s 2010 promise to ensure all B.C. citizens who want a family doctor will have access to one by 2015.
She said the plan is based on successful pilot programs that matched patients with doctors in White Rock-South Surrey (4,500 patients), the Cowichan Valley (1,100) and Prince George (3,800).
“There are over 9,000 people today who in 2010 didn’t have a family doctor and they have one now,” MacDiarmid said.
White Rock-South Surrey recruited seven new doctors, Prince George eight, and the Cowichan Valley one.
In the Cowichan Valley, the pilot program also contributed to a new maternity clinic and establishment of a locum program.
BCMA president Shelley Ross said the GP for Me pilot program speaks to the success of the collaboration between the government and the BCMA.
However, Ross said in an interview the program will not be as successful if doctors’ fees are reduced or capped in upcoming negotiations. This week’s provincial budget did not include a fee increase for doctors, and critics suggest the budget may even indicate a fee reduction.
“Negotiations have not started yet but doctors would not be keen to have either of those things happen,” Ross said.
“You can’t provide service if you don’t have the funding to provide it.”
A GP for Me spending will include $40 million for doctors’ groups to evaluate community needs and implement plans to match patients with doctors; $22 million for doctor-patient telephone consults at $15 a call; $20 million for doctors to take on a frail or vulnerable patient ($200 per patient per year); and $18.5 million for doctors who develop long-term care plans for patients with complex conditions ($315 per patient per year). It will include cancer patients and pregnant women.
New Democratic Party health critic Mike Farnworth said his party supports the intent of the program, hopes it’s a success and would continue to support it if his party wins the May 14 provincial election.
But Farnworth questions how the initiative will be sustained because the government’s “so-called balanced budget” shows the lowest spending increase in health care in a decade.
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