British Columbia

Provincial doctor shortage crisis gets political in Kamloops

The city of Kamloops is seen as ground zero for the doctor shortage crisis, where as many as 30,000 patients are looking for a physician.

Ground zero in the doctor shortage is Kamloops where as many as 30,000 are without a GP

The sign outside a Kamloops walk-in clinic lets potential patients know the clinic is full (CBC)

A family doctor shortage is one of the major election issues dominating the political discussion in ​at least one B.C. municipality.

Kamloops is ground zero for the crisis, where the NDP claim as many as 30,000 patients or one in three people are without a family doctor — a figure also referenced by telemedicine provider, Medview MD.

The last time Kamloops resident and veteran Yvonne Lyver saw a family doctor was seven years ago.

Lyver was shocked when she moved to B.C. to retire and couldn't find a doctor.

"In Alberta, if you don't find a doctor you're, like, guaranteed you'll find a doctor the next day. Here, there are no family doctors. None. I'm very disappointed."

Nancy Bepple, the NDP candidate for Kamloops South Thompson, has made the doctor shortage the focus of her campaign.

NDP candidate Nancy Bepple standing in front of a lineup at a walk-in clinic in Kamloops just before it opens. (Jennifer Chrumka)

"From babies to seniors, there are people whose only choice is to go to a walk-in clinic and they have to be here an hour before the doors even open and they've been doing this all winter."

For the NDP, the solution involves making communities like Kamloops more attractive to doctors by offering incentives and focusing on team-based care involving nurse practitioners.

The NDP also pledged to build urgent family care centres as a way to help improve access to health care in B.C., but few details have been released on where funding would come from.

Doctor shortage a numbers game

Liberal MLA Todd Stone, who is running for a second term in Kamloops South Thompson, says based on information from the Interior Health Authority and the group Doctors of B.C. the number of people without a family doctor is closer to 15,000 people.

"Suggestions of a number twice that big is simply nonsense," Stone said.

Todd Stone is running for a second term as the B.C. Liberal candidate for Kamloops-South Thompson. He was the minister of transportation and infrastructure at the time the election writ was issued. (Jennifer Chrumka)

The problem is the numbers aren't kept up to date.

Sharon Shore with Doctors of B.C. said, "given that population numbers and demographics can change almost daily, and doctors move into and out of communities on an annual basis, to keep track is an enormous job."

Done 'everything she can think of'

Lyver says she has done everything she can think of to secure a family doctor, including adding her name to the wait-list being taken by the Healthlink B.C. phone service 811.

That service was announced in 2016 to prioritize Kamloops residents who don't have access to a doctor.

Stone says 700 people in Kamloops who called the number have now been matched up with a health-care professional from a wait-list of 6,000.

The Liberals also announced a four-point strategy to address the lack of family physicians in Kamloops last fall.

That included opening two primary health care clinics, the recruitment of family doctors and a new nurse-in-practice program to increase capacity at existing clinics.

'A structural problem'

Even though it feels like Kamloops is ground zero of the primary care crisis, Dan Hines, the Green Party candidate for Kamloops North Shore, says it's important to see it as a larger picture.

"We're not going to be able to solve the complexity of the situation by approaching it as a Kamloops problem. It's a structural problem that exists in health care right now."

The Green House is the campaign headquarters for the Green Party on the north shore of Kamloops. (Jennifer Chrumka)

Hines says the Greens are "looking at how do we fund preventative care, primary care and acute care and how do we see things coming before they grow to a state where we have to be reactive."

The doctor shortage will have a big influence on how Yvonne Lyver votes on May 9th.

"I'm not a happy person," she said. "It's pitiful that in B.C. where we pay a premium to see a family doctor, we're not getting anything for what we're paying for ... this is going to be an issue when people go to the polls."