Premier meets with B.C. doctors ahead of rally at legislature

(File Photo)

Amid growing tensions with family doctors and frustration from the public, the premier met with physicians ahead of a "wear your colours" rally health-care advocates are organizing on the government's doorstep.

Sources tell CTV News that John Horgan has been scheduled to attend a Tuesday meeting between the health minister and the Doctors of B.C. but were surprised that the premier's office sent a statement that afternoon claiming a "constructive discussion" between them.

"Going forward, the provincial government has committed to working closely with Doctors of B.C. on solutions, including a clear process with firm timelines in order to make tangible progress on this complex problem," read part of the statement, though it did not commit to new funds.

One in five people in the province do not have a family doctor and those who do typically wait several weeks for the next available appointment.

"The number of British Columbians without access to an in-person family physician is a real problem," acknowledged Horgan in the press release, going on to blame the Liberals for a doubling of the number of people without a family doctor between 2003 and 2017.

While the issues predate his government, Horgan's administration is increasingly coming under fire for failing to act in the face of multiple family practice and clinic closures and a deteriorating relationship with doctors. Last week, it culminated in a massive backlash against the health minister after he suggested nurse practitioners provide better primary care because they spend more time with patients

Wednesday morning, the Doctors of B.C. issued their own statement on the meeting, revealing the premier has assigned the deputy health minister to "develop new and/or enhanced payment models for longitudinal family medicine" within a timeline yet to be determined. 

"We had a frank, honest and robust discussion, in which both the premier and minister agreed that physicians are the foundation of primary care," read the statement on behalf of the organization's president, Dr. Ramneek Dosanjh, and board chair, Dr. Adam Thompson.

"The premier also acknowledged that significant funding will be needed, beyond monies that may be transferred from the federal government." 

A significant number of physicians are now planning to attend a demonstration in Victoria on Thursday, World Family Doctor Day, to express their frustration and push for modernization of family medicine, including better use of a range of medical practitioners in teams and a sustainable funding model; family doctors are paid on a per-patient basis, whether they spend a few minutes or an hour with that patient, which sees them paid significantly less than their peers in Alberta.

The "Rally for Change" is organized by B.C. Health Care Matters, a patient-led advocacy group urging attendees to wear white if they have a family doctors and black if they do not at the Thursday event at the legislature in Victoria starting at 11 a.m.

The premier did not reference the demonstration in his late afternoon statement following his meeting, but did commit to keeping family medicine in the public healthcare system, rather than pursue privatization to facilitate access to a family doctor.

"While this is a problem across Canada, it is very acute here in B.C.," it reads. "I've heard from physicians throughout the province that they are both overworked and frustrated by the pressures they are under, which are compounded by the ongoing consequences of the pandemic."