Esquimalt getting new urgent and primary care centre

A new urgent and primary care centre is coming to Esquimalt, where there’s just one medical clinic and 65 per cent of residents say they don’t have a family doctor.

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix will announce plans Friday for the fifth such health centre on Vancouver Island. It’s expected to open by spring.

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Mayor Barb Desjardins called the news “huge.”

“There’s comfort and confidence that Esquimalt residents will be able to get the care they need in a more timely fashion going forward and not have to go around the region to get care,” she said.

“There’s a whole bunch of politics around UPCC versus other things, but the reality is we’re getting a medical clinic and I’m extremely happy about that.”

Island Health is looking for clinical space to operate a temporary site, with a permanent one to follow at the same location or elsewhere.

“I think there’s a significant development opportunity in the future for the permanent site, but we want to get going as well,” Dix said. “I think there’s a need for these services in Esquimalt.”

Dix has led the charge since 2018 for health authorities in the province to open urgent and primary care centres, which pay doctors a salary rather than a fee for services performed.

The centres are intended to provide same-day access for people with non-emergency illnesses and injuries, who need to be seen within 12 to 24 hours, relieving pressure on hospital emergency rooms. They are generally open seven days a week and offer extended hours to 8 p.m.

They are also meant to “attach” patients to family doctors and nurse practitioners at the centre, allowing for appointments to be made.

Operating costs are in the ballpark of $3 million a year.

However, they have been controversial. Some doctors say they are less efficient and less effective than primary care practices and standard clinics, that they siphon doctors away from family practices, and they are unable to provide all the health practitioners they promise.

Esquimalt-Metchosin MLA Mitzi Dean said there’s been a lot of “concerns and anxiety” amongst Esquimalt residents about the loss of primary care providers. A medical clinic on Esquimalt Road near Head Street closed, and a clinic in Vic West used by Esquimalt residents pulled up stakes and moved.

“Even though we’re going to have a temporary service, that will allow us to establish the service,” Dean said. “It meets the immediate need, which is something that has been really pressing in my constituency office.”

The health minister said the Esquimalt centre will aim to recruit general practitioners, nurse practitioners, nurses and allied health clinicians as well as mental health and addictions specialists.

Hiring doctors for the James Bay urgent and primary care centre has been difficult, but Dix said, “I think we’re getting there.” Since opening in April, the centre has matched 336 patients to a family practitioner, he said.

Generally, “we have had a lot of success recruiting people to UPCCs and we do not expect that to be a problem in Esquimalt,” said Dix, saying the new model is attractive to young family doctors.

The Island’s first urgent and primary care centre opened in Langford in 2018, followed by one in Nanaimo in September 2019, and another in James Bay this spring. There are 17 such centres in the province.

In May, Island Health posted a request for proposals for an urgent and primary care centre in an unfinished empty space in The Wade, a two-building mixed-use condominium at the corner of Johnson and Cook streets.

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

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