British Columbians call for more family doctors, money for health-care system at B.C. Legislature rally

One woman said her niece would not have died of cancer had she been able to find a family doctor to help navigate BC’s health-care system in the years after she moved to the province in 2015.

A father recounted how he begged his family doctor to take on his sick adult son as a patient, only to be turned down, even after offering to give up his client spot at the practice.

Another woman said that after months of trying to find a doctor, her sick mother ended up in the emergency room coughing up blood, and diagnosed with advanced lung cancer. She passed away a month later.

These testimonials are a few of the many shared with about 400 people on the lawn of the BC Legislature in Victoria, and hundreds more on social media who tuned in to the two-hour BC Health Care Matters rally on Thursday in support of “timely access to appropriate in-person health services for every resident of British Columbia.”

Organized to coincide with World Family Doctor Day, the event put another spotlight on what some have described as a crisis in BC’s primary health-care system.

Citizens, doctors, nurses and politicians took to the stage to speak of the harms and frustrations caused by long waiting times, overworked doctors and clogged up hospitals and primary care clinics.

“We all deserve primary care and we all deserve a family doctor,” said BC Health Care Matters organizer Alexis Reid to the cheering crowd.

“We will not be placed simply by promises, announcements and statements.”

Close to a million British Columbians — almost one in five — do not have a family doctor, and more are losing theirs to retirement every day.

Close to a million British Columbians — almost one in five — do not have a family doctor. (CBC)

Speakers advocated for better doctor pay, more money in the system, and for increasing the number of medical school seats to ensure a supply of new physicians to meet the existing shortage, and to address the baby-boom era retirement wave hitting the family doctor sector .

There was also pointed criticism directed at the relatively new Urgent Primary Care Centers (UPCC) system brought in by the government in 2018 to provide frontline health services for those without a family doctor.

dr Adrian Yee, a hematologist in Victoria, said the UPCC system is overburdened and failing many of his elderly patients who come to him with medical conditions that have worsened while they waited to see a primary care provider.

“When they come too late to care, one of the most common themes is I cannot access any care because my family doctor retired,” said Yee.

“Walk-in and urgent primary care clinics are not the solution, they do not provide continuity of care. Every time you go in you see a different clinician and you have to repeat your story over and over. Every time you start from zero again ,” he said.

Rally organizers delivered a 42,000-signature petition to the BC Legislative Assembly Thursday morning, calling on more people to join the campaign.

“If the government continues to not be transparent and delay taking action, we will ramp up our efforts,” said Camille Currie, lead community advocate for BC Health Care Matters.

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