B.C. family doctors say $118M funding boost is a Band-Aid solution for long-term crisis

Faced with mounting overhead costs for staff, supplies and rent, some family physicians in B.C. are closing their practices. (Justine Boulin/CBC - image credit)
Faced with mounting overhead costs for staff, supplies and rent, some family physicians in B.C. are closing their practices. (Justine Boulin/CBC - image credit)

B.C. family doctors say a $118-million funding boost from the province will help with high overhead costs in the short-term but won't address the mounting health-care crisis.

More than a million British Columbians are without a family doctor. Family physicians are increasingly leaving their practices due to the mounting costs of paying rent and hiring staff.

Some physicians are skeptical that the interim funding announced by the province will adequately address those costs.

"Family doctors are bleeding. This is a very hard environment to be working in," said family doctor Rita McCracken.

Maryse Zeidler/CBC
Maryse Zeidler/CBC

Starting Oct. 1, the total of $118 million in funding will be available to about 3,480 family doctors with their own practices and 1,100 working in walk-in clinics.

Health Minister Adrian Dix said the four-month program will help address the overhead costs faced by family doctors.

McCracken, also an assistant professor in the Department of Family Practice at UBC, isn't fully sold on the interim funding announced by Health Minister Adrian Dix.

She says long-term health deserves a long-term plan.

"I'm very pleased that there is action," said McCracken. "I have some concerns about what a lump sum of money for doctors is expected to do."

Funding allocation unclear

Peter Vizsolyi, a physician in Saanich, says he's not sure if the $118-million lump sum is new money or a reallocation of existing funds.

The funding consists of $75 million from the health ministry and $43 million from the General Practices Services Committee, which was established through the physician master agreement and is co-chaired by the health ministry and Doctors of B.C.

Vizsolyi says the $43 million from the GPSC is part of an existing longitudinal care fund for community-based family physicians who work under fee-for-service and care for multiple patients.

"It's computed in a very complex manner. It has to do with how many patients you have, are you the majority care physician for them and how complex are they?"

Justine Boulin/CBC
Justine Boulin/CBC

Vizsolyi says he received around $10,000 for his practice last year. He's not clear if the new funding will be in addition to that amount.

The total amount works out to approximately $25,000 or more for 70 per cent of doctors in B.C. to pay growing overhead costs.

McCracken says it's unclear what the expectations are for that money.

"For example, are physicians going to stay open for the same number of hours they have previously? Are they going to be keeping all the patients they still had previously?"

She doesn't believe the funding announcement will do anything to help over a million British Columbians find a family doctor.

Compensation gap for family doctors

Dix says part of the idea of the payout is to close the gap between family doctors who pay the costs of operating a practice out of their income and hospitalists, who may have the same training but work at a hospital.

Victoria physician Jennifer Lush says, in the short term, more money in family doctors' pockets will help to defray the costs of staff and supplies.

However, she says it's likely not enough to address gaps in compensation as many family doctors leave to make more money in other roles, including inside hospitals.

"In order to address the shortage that we have, we have to be able to not only retain but also recruit doctors back into community family medicine."

Wednesday, Dix promised a new compensation system would be announced in the fall.

But advocates say that could take months to roll out and are calling for a mid-term plan once this latest round of funding dries up.

"This is a short-term fix," said David May, the president of the B.C. College of Family Physicians. "We need to have a much longer discussion about what primary care is going to look like in the future."