Health Minister promises easier access to primary care in Kamloops

By Chad Klassen
October 6, 2016 - 11:24am Updated: October 6, 2016 - 5:39pm

KAMLOOPS — As one-third of Kamloops residents struggle to find a family doctor, the province announced a four-point action plan on Thursday to address patient access to primary health care.

It's estimated nearly 30,000 people in Kamloops don't have a family doctor, including Toni Makowichuk, who has been without a family doctor since May when she moved back to B.C. 

She now has to go to Summit Medical Centre to see her former family doctor, Dr. Wilson, who closed his private practice while she was gone.

"Any time I need to go see a doctor, I spend about an hour debating how bad it is, and I usually end up waiting until it's absolutely extreme before I go. It's such a hassle," says Makowichuk.

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But the province is trying to help patients like Makowichuk, announcing today a four-point plan to give Kamloops residents easier access to primary care. 

Health Minister Terry Lake says while residents may not get a family doctor right away, the plan is to attract a half a dozen locum doctors in the next six months. 

"Immediately, what we'll see are locum physicians, these are temporary physicians. Normally, those locums through the government of B.C. and Doctors of B.C. are only eligible to go to smaller, remote communities," says Lake. "We're saying we're going to take five of those locum GPs and get them into Kamloops as soon as possible."

The plan also includes hiring more nurses to work in doctors' offices and walk-in clinics. Dr. Chip Bantock, who has a practice on Nicola Street, says that will take pressure off local physicians. 

"Nurses will be able to see some of my patients without me having to see them. For things that don't need my expertise. But the nurse can also call on me if it's required," says Dr. Bantock. "That way, some of the routine stuff that I have to do, I won't have to do so often. I will hopefully open up spots, so my patients can be seen more easily."

Some critics says the province has tried to recruit more doctors but has failed through programs like GP for Me that launched in 2013. 

Barb Nederpel, the NDP nominee in Kamloops North-Thompson, is worried about the cost of bringing in locums. 

"Locums are incredibly expensive, but it still doesn't address the fact that people don't have a primary caregiver," says Nederpel. "What happens within the health care system is, without that primary caregiver, you tend to lack the follow-up required for chronic diseases."

Lake says in the next few weeks, through HealthLink BC, people will be able to call a number to get on an active waiting list and be matched once a physician is available, a relief for people like Makowichuk.

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