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Comment: B.C. residents are dying for a family health-care practitioner

A commentary on behalf of B.C. Health Care Matters.
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Many people are dying in B.C. because of our extraordinarily large deficit in family practitioners, write Alexis Reid and Dr. Adrian Fine. VIA SHUTTERSTOCK

The mission of our Ministry of Health is “to ensure that quality, appropriate, cost-effective and timely health services are available to all British Columbians.”

The lack of primary care in B.C. is nothing short of a crisis and represents abject failure by successive governments.

Family medicine is the very backbone of our health-care system, yet more than 900,000 British Columbians are without a family practitioner.

The predictable worsening of the family practitioner crisis combined with chronic inertia by our government prompted the creation of our campaign, B.C. Health Care Matters.

Our primary purpose is to advocate for timely access to primary care for all British Columbians and, in particular, those of us without a family practitioner. We need to educate our politicians about the staggering enormity of consequences of not having a family practitioner, including the ultimate harm, namely death. Our job is to ensure that the information we pass on is backed up by scientific evidence.

The medical literature is replete with research convincingly demonstrating that numerous measures of health outcomes are negatively impacted by having inadequate family physician availability. These include worse compliance with therapy, increased hospitalization, increased visits to the Emergency department, reduced patient satisfaction and death.

Politicians, please note that many people are dying in B.C. because of our extraordinarily large deficit in family practitioners. The numbers are frightening.

As an example, one study from Ontario showed an increased hospital death rate in those over 65 who were admitted to hospital and had no family practitioner compared with those who had one. Following up six months after discharge, those without a family practitioner were more likely to die.

Calculating for population difference, about 1,500 patients older than 65 in B.C. will die each year due to not having a family practitioner. Interestingly, this is about the same as the number of B.C. patients who died per year of COVID!

Of relevance, most of the deaths in these two groups of patients were elderly and vulnerable. Our entire emergency resources were activated during COVID to reduce those numbers.

Meanwhile, the deaths from having no family practitioner get a mere shrug from the health minister or an angry expletive from the premier. Utterly useless and quixotic supposed solutions are foisted on we hapless voters and the situation predictably worsens by the week.

Another study from the United States, taking into account the results of many research studies, estimated that 120,700 lives were lost in the country because of insufficient family practitioners. Adjusting this number for B.C.’s population size, 1,800 lives will be lost because of our current situation, a remarkably similar number to the above study.

These preventable deaths are entirely the result of successive government policies and inertia. In a non-political situation, such deaths might well qualify for the legal definition on negligent homicide.

Unfortunately, our political leaders give out misleading and somewhat insulting statements. Premier JohnHorgan, when announcing how important the early detection of his cancer was, advised that people should go to their doctor as soon as symptoms appear.

But 900,000 British Columbians cannot do this.

Health Minister Adrian Dix has repeatedly extolled the virtues of his creation, Urgent Primary Care Centres. A Trumpian exaggeration no less. An employee at the James Bay UPCC recently admitted that “we hardly ever have a doctor here.”

Our primary care health service has collapsed. It is the electors’ tragedy that our leaders have allowed this to happen and seem neither to have the will nor the wherewithal to urgently prevent hundreds of avoidable deaths.

B.C. Health Care Matters will not stop fighting and campaigning until every single British Columbian has consistent, reliable, and timely access to preventative, longitudinal family medicine.

We must reject the government’s protestation that it cannot afford to pay family doctors more. We, and every citizen of B.C. must proclaim that we cannot afford not to pay our doctors more.

It is time we told our government that enough is enough. That is why we are calling on all residents to come out and rally with us on May 19, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the B.C. legislature.

Help us show the government that we need action now. In fact, our lives depend on it.

Alexis Reid is the project lead for B.C. Health Care Matters. Dr. Adrian Fine is a retired medical specialist.