In Question Period I asked the Minister of Health how the government is responding to the doctor shortage in BC.
S. Furstenau: And now for something completely different.
Graphs from the MSP Physician Resource Report indicate the total expenditure for general practice doctors has increased significantly since 2005, but the average number of patients treated per physician has dropped. The government’s policy changes over the last ten years have led to more doctors, fewer working days treating fewer patients.
The data focuses on quantity of care but not quality. In many cases, doctors seeing fewer patients is a positive change, as it indicates they are spending more time with each individual. For people struggling with multiple or complex conditions, this added assistance is essential. With doctors striving to create healthier work-life balance, the policies used to address the doctor shortages of the 1970s are no longer relevant.
Family doctors play a vital role in our well-being, and they deserve a policy framework that lets them treat patients in a manageable, fulfilling and effective manner. To the Minister of Health: what concrete steps is he taking to modernize our province’s approach to the doctor shortage? Has he considered a role for physician assistants in that future?
Hon. A. Dix: Thank you to the member for her question. I think at the heart of what we’re trying to do, particularly with respect to primary care, is bringing team-based care everywhere in British Columbia. That means doctors, nurse practitioners, physiotherapists, pharmacists and LPNs — everyone working together in teams to provide better care for patients, which is the goal in the long run. It will also provide better work-life balance and supports for doctors working in the system, both from one another and from other professionals working in health care. That’s the first thing.
The second thing is that when I talk to doctors, one of their real concerns is the increasing time that they have to spend finding appropriate services, whether it be for mental health and addictions or for frail elderly. That’s why we’re putting in place one-stop shopping for doctors, for specialized services to improve both their quality of life and the quality of care and ensure they can spend the maximum amount of time during their day with patients.
I think the third set of things we have to do in a modern age is to greatly improve the use of digital technologies. Some of our partnerships, including with great B.C.-based companies such as Telus, do exactly that.
Finally, we do need, in these circumstances, to add more resources. It’s why we are adding more family practice doctors, more nurse practitioners, more pharmacists and other professionals to staff these teams to provide more supports. Physician assistants, which the member mentioned, could play an important role in all of that, and they are use in other provinces.
We’re focusing right now on dramatically increasing the use of nurse practitioners. We’ve had nurse practitioners, as a result of the efforts of the former government, since 2005. However, in 2017, we were 12th and 13th in their use. We need to do better, and we will.
Mr. Speaker: The House Leader of the Third Party on a supplemental.
S. Furstenau: I appreciate the minister’s response, and I have one other aspect to ask him about. We know that demographic changes occurring in B.C. will greatly exacerbate the challenges that we face now with doctor shortages.
To the Minister of Health: how will he balance the quality of care that people are getting with the rising demand of a growing and aging population in B.C.?
Hon. A. Dix: Thank you again to the member for her question. I feel a 15-minute answer coming on, and I know you’ll help me with that, hon. Speaker.
I think, first of all, that all of this is an essential part of our primary care plan, but it’s not just about primary care in a society that’s changing, such as ours. I was in Fort St. James, in my colleague’s riding, recently. We announced a new hospital there. We also, importantly, added two alternate-payment-plan general practitioners to provide services there and, in association with the First Nations health authorities, the communities surrounding Fort St. James.
We need to use imaginative solutions both to improve care and to understand that people want to be able to live, and live fully, where they are. That means, just as we did yesterday on Vancouver Island, increasing respite services and adult day programs so that those very seniors don’t just have a medical response to their problem but are able to live more fully out in the world and have supports when they do so.
Finally, I was so proud last week when my colleague introduced a poverty reduction plan in British Columbia. We know that we have to also spend our health care resources efficiently so that we have the means to respond to issues like income inequality, which are so fundamental to the health of British Columbians.