Lack of family doctors still among big gaps in health care

By Chad Klassen
July 6, 2016 - 5:18pm Updated: July 6, 2016 - 6:20pm

KAMLOOPS — The lack of family doctors is a health care challenge that is not going away. But what can be done to remedy the problem?

The provincial government introduced the 'GP for Me' program in 2010, aiming to find every B.C. citizens a family physician by 2015. That has yet to happen.

On Wednesday in Kamloops, a Standing Committee on Health met to hear from professionals in the field to see what can be done to improve the situation.

Scott Lamont and Michael Sandler are trying to help bridge the gap in rural health care. They are part of the B.C. Transport Nurses Network, a non-profit attempting to work with the province to expand the role of skilled workers in smaller centres. 

"We are advocating for a slightly expanded scope of practice for nurses in rural and remote settings, so that we can recruit and retain," says Sandler.

There are about 80 trained transport nurses that are sent to smaller communities when need. They train local nurses, so they can treat rural patients in many capacities. 

"I think we have to look at utilizing the skills that are in the community that the patient is originating from, and moving them in a timely, rapid fashion, which could include the use of a rotary resource," says Sandler. "That's instead of waiting for retrieval teams to come from the Coast or larger centre."

The pair spoke in front of the Standing Committee on Health, comprised of both Liberal and NDP MLAs who are striving together to make our health care system better. 

"We heard there are barriers for local practioners being able to do their business," says Committee Chair Linda Larson, Boundary-Similkameen MLA. "There's certainly some rules and restrictions through the College of Physicians and Surgeons that need to be looked at."

Health Critic Judy Darcy is on the Committee, and with a shortage of family doctors across B.C., she says part of the solution lies in more nurse practitioners, which the province has been working on, as well as health units that can travel to rural places. 

"We can have mobile clinics that go to smaller communities that could have doctors, nurse practitioners, dieticians, and sometimes specialists that won't be based in communities but visit communities," says Darcy. 

Lamont and Sandler believe appropriate support, such as versatile nurses, can help in the recruitment and retainment of doctors to smaller communities. 

"One of the major issues they face is they feel unsupported in their ability to provide care to their patients," says Sandler. "Nurses are uniquely situated to be able to improve that level of support, which will improve the ability of the GP to treat their rural patients."

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