MP Report: Dealing with the doctor shortage

Bob Zimmer, MP

 

Ever since I was elected as the Member of Parliament for Prince George-Peace River, constituents have talked to me about the ever-worsening doctor shortage in northeastern BC.

I share your concerns, and have been talking to doctors and nurses in the Peace Region about the situation. I have had discussions with Northern Health about this issue, and agree more needs to be done to ensure health care services are available to all residents in the North Peace.

My office has received petitions from more than 1200 residents in the Peace Region calling for immediate action to address the acute shortage of doctors.

I have already written very strongly worded letters to the CEO and Board of Directors at Northern Health, and the BC Minister of Health demanding action on this issue. My office is working closely with the City of Fort St. John, Northern Health, and the BC Government to come up with targeted and effective solutions for our community.

This issue is not as simple as it seems. It is a long and expensive process to train doctors and to certify credentials of foreign doctors. Attracting and retaining doctors to northeastern BC is also a challenge, as the issue goes well beyond money. In 2013, Rural Physicians for BC began offering $100 000 payments for doctors to relocate to remote and rural communities. By December, only 9 doctors actually accepted the offer.

The other ongoing issue is the perception of northern BC by medical associations who seem to operate with a lower-mainland mindset. Earlier this month on Twitter, the General Surgeons of BC dismissed suggestions that their members should apply to vacancies in Fort St. John. These are issues that will take a great deal of time and effort to address. Although I and my elected colleagues at all levels of government are putting a great deal of effort, we have run out of time.

In rural British Columbia, we have relied on doctors from abroad. Currently, the BC College of Physicians and Surgeons recognizes the credentials of doctors trained in Canada, USA, UK, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand. The College no longer recognizes applicant credentials from South Africa, nor is it easy or cheap for a performance assessment for a newly arrived physician. The most obvious answers are for the BC College to recognize South African credentials once more, or to make a more concerted effort to offer performance assessments for newly arrived physicians from abroad.

Our Conservative Government has taken extensive measures to increase funding transfers to the provinces for health care. However, primary responsibility for matters related to the administration and delivery of health care services in Canada falls within provincial and territorial jurisdiction. Recruitment and retention of doctors and management of health services for the Peace Region are the jurisdiction of Northern Health and the BC Government, and it is ultimately up to implement the policies that will bring more doctors to the northeast.

I will continue to work with the province and local governments, health care authorities, and residents to come up with a solution to this critical shortage of physicians.