Doctor shortage ‘crisis’ demands urgent attention: Esquimalt mayor

Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins says a doctor shortage in her township and neighbouring Vic West constitutes a medical “crisis” that requires urgent attention.

The closing of the Esquimalt Treatment Centre last year and the loss of the Westside Integrated Health Centre in Vic West in 2015 left the region with just a single walk-in clinic, at Esquimalt Plaza.

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In addition to its walk-in service, the clinic has three family doctors but none are taking new patients.

Desjardins said there are more doctors in neighbouring View Royal, but she believes the shortage in Esquimalt — with a population of 17,655 — is forcing residents to rely on hospital emergency departments, putting additional stress on the medical system.

“This is something absolutely critical to get the attention of the Ministry of Health,” she said.

The Esquimalt Medical Clinic confirmed that the closing of the Esquimalt Treatment Centre is already having an impact on wait times.

“Part of that may be due to the new year — it tends to be a busy time anyways,” said Levi Newnham, clinic manager. “But we are definitely seeing [an increase].

“For example, we’ll be booked up for the entire day by 9:30 in the morning. So people who are coming in at 9:30, they’ll be told to come back at, say, 4:45 to see the doctor.”

People who arrive later than 9:30 a.m. might not be able to get an appointment at all that day.

“We get a lot of frustration,” he said. “There’s definitely a lot of stress that the patients have and they put onto us as well.”

The clinic’s website states that a Military Families Clinic is also closed indefinitely due to the limited availability of military doctors.

One woman reached out to Esquimalt-Metchosin MLA Mitzi Dean on Twitter last week to ask for help.

“I’m a military spouse with 3 boys,” Laura Chilibeck wrote. “We’ve been posted back to Esquimalt and like everyone else we don’t have a Family doctor. I currently have a horrible bacteria infection while all 3 kids have the flu. We NEED a family doctor. THIS IS NOT OK. PLEASE HELP.”

Chilibeck said in an interview that she worries about her children’s care without the consistency of having a family doctor.

In one instance, she had a bad reaction to antibiotics, and had to wait a day to get into a clinic because they were all full.

“The situation is not fair to the doctors working at walk-in clinics who are constantly full and no doubt dealing with angry and frustrated patients,” she said.

Desjardins wants Health Minister Adrian Dix to consider Esquimalt for one of the new urgent primary-care centres rolling out across the province.

Patients are able to connect with doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners and other medical professionals at the centres, which are open evenings and weekends to treat everything from sprains and ear infections to minor cuts and burns.

The NDP government has opened five such centres — including one in Langford — as part of its three-pronged strategy to reform primary care and ease the pressure on hospital emergency rooms. The government is also developing primary care networks and supporting team-based care through community health centres.

Dix said in an interview that his ministry is working hard to deal with long-standing doctor shortages across the province. He said there were about 775,000 people in B.C. without a family doctor when the NDP took power in 2017, despite the previous Liberal government’s promise to find everyone a family doctor through its GP for Me program.

“Unlike the past, we’re taking concrete, systematic action,” he said. “Obviously, the South Island is a major part of that.

“We’re working hard to establish the primary-care networks that will increase services in communities such as Esquimalt, but really all the communities in the Capital Regional District.”

Dix said he takes Desjardins’ concerns seriously and has met several times with Dean, the local MLA. “I’m glad to hear the mayor of Esquimalt thinks we’re on the right track,” he said. “I know she wants us to move more quickly in her community, but we’re also working to make sure we’re making progress.

“That’s why we’re working with communities and divisions of family practice everywhere across the South Island. We’re working hard on it now and we’re going to have more to things to talk about — including primary- care networks — soon.”

lkines@timescolonist.com

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