'Clearly there is something wrong': Vancouver Island family doctor crisis deepens as thousands lose medical care
The new year brought bad news for the mayor of View Royal, B.C., and about 4,500 other newly abandoned medical patients.
Mayor David Screech and his wife recently learned two family doctors at the Eagle Creek Medical Clinic were dissolving their practice on April 15.
This also means that the View Royal clinic, which will still host several other family doctors, will shut down its walk-in services in April.
"It's a real worry to know you just join all those who don't have a GP," said Screech.
A statement from the clinic says, "Dr. George Zabakolas and Dr. Chelsie Velikovsky have decided to stop practising longitudinal family medicine in Victoria permanently."
The clinic also said its walk-in service was barely able to handle caseloads with a full stable of doctors, and it would not be able to cope with the roughly 3,000 patients the pair of physicians will leave behind.
"Clearly there is something wrong with our system when we have two relatively young GPs leave because the system isn't working for them," Screech told CTV News.
Adding to medical woes in the capital region, the Burnside Family Medical Clinic recently sent letters to between 1,500 and 1,700 patients saying their family GP has decided to retire.
"We are trying to care for those patients as best we can in our walk-in clinic, but that too is overwhelmed and short of doctors," the clinic said in an email.
Dr. Matthew Ward is the medical director of the Eagle Creek Medical Clinic.
He says the pair of doctors are leaving for a myriad of reasons, but pay is a major factor.
"It's hard to be a family doctor in the CRD right now," said Dr. Ward. "Costs are incredibly high and there is an inadequate fee-for-service system."
A current agreement with the B.C. government pays family doctors $31.62 per appointment. That number can change due to a patient's age and medical needs, according to Ward.
He says the pay system is outdated, especially in a place like the capital region, where commercial rent, business overhead costs and the cost of living are so high.
A provincial financial statement outlining doctors' pay shows in the fiscal year ending in March 2020, the two young doctors leaving the Eagle Creek clinic raked in $421,301.09.
Dr. Ward says while it appears family doctors are still highly paid professionals in our society, the costs which come out of their take-home pay, is immense and causing the exodus.
"The lack of access to longitudinal community-based family doctors is a crisis," Dr. Ward said. "There is no other way to describe it."
According to the organization Doctors of BC, the average pay for a family physician in the province is $279,266.
The group says doctors must then use those dollars to pay staff salaries, office rent, utilities and equipment rentals and maintenance.
Doctors of BC estimates about 35 to 40 per cent of a family doctor's pay disappears before they ever see it.
CHANGE ON THE HORIZON?
Change for doctors, and potentially patients, on Vancouver Island could be on the horizon as the Doctors of BC has started a new round negotiation with the province about pay.
Last updated in 2019, the Physician Master Plan (PMA) is currently being discussed between the B.C. government and doctors.
A looming agreement could increase the per-appointment fee from $31.62, though the doctors' lobby group is also working to find other ways to attract medical experts to B.C.
For the medically abandoned, like Mayor David Screech, these negotiations will be a key point of interest as he hopes a new doctor will arrive in the region and welcome him into the exam room.
"Who knows where we'll be in 10 years if we don't stop this exodus," said Screech.
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