Health Minister Adrian Dix acknowledged to hundreds of local politicians across British Columbia that “there is a challenge in health care,” but refrained from making specific promises or d providing new funds to address the growing number of hospital closures and shortages of doctors and paramedics.
“We are capable of responding,” Dix said at the Union of British Columbia Municipalities convention in Whistler, after spending much of his time talking about the province’s response to the pandemic.
“I’ve heard the term health crisis. Just so we understand: we’ve been in a health crisis since at least March 2020.”
Although Dix argued that BC’s response was “the best in the world”, he admitted the province faces a number of challenges with current shortages stemming from an aging and growing population.
To that end, he said, the province needed to train more people, reduce barriers to care, make it easier for pharmacists and internationally trained doctors to contribute to the system, and make changes to the compensation system.
“These are things we can do together,” Dix said.
“We need to be able to say that we are committed to our public healthcare system.”
Dix says the number of people without a family doctor rose from about 340,000 in 2003 to 908,000 in 2017 and is expected to be higher this year.
In a “first step,” the government last month announced $118 million in bridge funding to support family doctors.
“Emoji Rolling Eyes”
Dix’s speech was applauded by the mayors and councilors present.
But a number of small community leaders said more action was urgently needed.
“The days of planning, consultation, reporting and meetings are over,” said Ashcroft Mayor Barbara Roden.
“I have been attending health care planning meetings during my four years as mayor. We hear all the time about the changes to the primary care model and the patient network, how great they will be for Ashcroft I’m at the point where I say, “Wonderful. If they’re so great, why haven’t we implemented them yet?”
Roden is part of a group of rural mayors who have formed a coalition to demand changes in health service delivery and have so far been skeptical of provincial promises.
“I think my most commonly used emoji is the rolling eye emoji, and it’s entirely for that reason,” said Clearwater Mayor Merlin Blackwell, who after Dix’s speech explained that the Clearwater emergency department had been closed 60 times this year.
“Adrian Dix and the Department of Health are a top-down organization…we have crisis issues that we can actually address at ground level.”
Tricky short-term solutions
Plenary of Ten took place at a city government conference where much of the time was spent discussing concerns about shortages of affordable housing, mental health care providers and doctors, nurses and of paramedics.
Gaby Wickstrom, the mayor of Port McNeill, said “writing a check for the sake of writing it won’t solve the problem”.
“If you’re going to spend money on it, I want to see a plan. I want to see exactly what situation it’s going to help address and how you think those dollars are going to help.”
Former health minister and current consultant George Abbott said ‘quick fixes are really hard to come by in a system which is generally very resistant to change’.
But Abbott discussed a number of options, including increasing salaries, finding ways to bring back recently retired healthcare workers and exploring best practices from other provinces in recruiting international doctors. .
After the session, Dix said an announcement regarding ambulance care “probably would have [been] did this…but for the very sad passing of the Queen.”
And he defended the lack of promises overall.
“What it was was a serious discussion. It was not a stage for announcements,” he said.
“I make announcements when we’re ready to do so, when we’ve spoken to everyone, when we engage with everyone, and then we deliver.
“It’s not about showing, it’s about doing, and that’s who I am.”