Family health

Commentary: Residents of British Columbia are dying for a family doctor

A comment on behalf of BC Health Care Matters.

The mission of our Department 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 British Columbia is nothing less than a crisis and represents an abject failure of successive governments.

Family medicine is the backbone of our health care system, but more than 900,000 British Columbians do not have a family doctor.

The foreseeable worsening of the family physician crisis combined with our government’s chronic inertia prompted the creation of our campaign, BC Health Care Matters.

Our main goal is to advocate for timely access to primary care for all British Columbians and, in particular, those of us who do not have a family doctor. We need to educate our politicians about the staggering enormity of the consequences of not having a family doctor, including the ultimate evil, which is death. Our job is to ensure that the information we pass on is supported by scientific evidence.

The medical literature is replete with research that convincingly demonstrates that many measures of health outcomes are negatively affected by insufficient availability of family physicians. These include poorer adherence to treatment, increased hospitalizations, increased emergency department visits, decreased patient satisfaction and deaths.

Politicians, please note that many people are dying in British Columbia because of our extraordinarily large deficit of family doctors. The numbers are frightening.

For example, a study in Ontario showed an increased hospital death rate among people over 65 who were admitted to hospital and did not have a family doctor compared to those who had one. After six months off, those without a family doctor were more likely to die.

Calculating the population difference, approximately 1,500 patients over the age of 65 in British Columbia will die each year because they do not have a family doctor. Interestingly, this is about the same as the number of BC patients who die per year due to COVID!

Relevant, most of the deaths in these two groups of patients were elderly and vulnerable. All of our emergency resources have been activated during COVID to reduce these numbers.

Meanwhile, deaths due to the lack of a family doctor elicit a mere shrug from the Minister of Health or an angry curse from the Prime Minister. Supposedly totally unnecessary and quixotic solutions are being forced upon us hapless voters, and the situation is predictably getting worse by the week.

Another study from the United States, taking into account the results of numerous research studies, estimated that 120,700 lives were lost in the country due to the lack of family doctors. Adjusting this number to the size of BC’s population, 1,800 lives will be lost due to our current situation, a remarkably similar number to the study above.

These preventable deaths are entirely the result of successive government policies and inertia. In a non-political situation, such deaths may well fall within the legal definition of negligent homicide.

Unfortunately, our political leaders make misleading and somewhat insulting statements. Prime Minister John Horgan, when he announced the importance of early detection of his cancer, advised people to see their doctor as soon as symptoms appear.

But 900,000 British Columbians cannot do that.

The Minister of Health, Adrian Dix, has repeatedly extolled the virtues of his creation, the emergency primary care centres. A Trumpian exaggeration no less. A James Bay UPCC employee recently admitted that “we hardly ever have a doctor here.”

Our primary health care service collapsed. It is the tragedy of the voters that our leaders have allowed this to happen and seem unwilling or unwilling to urgently prevent hundreds of preventable deaths.

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

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

It is time to tell our government that enough is enough. That’s why we’re calling on all residents to come out and gather with us on May 19 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the BC Legislative Assembly.

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

Alexis Reid is Project Manager for BC Health Care Matters. Dr Adrian Fine is a retired medical specialist.