Winnipeg QuickCare clinics 'may be on the chopping block,' health critic says

With three Winnipeg emergency rooms set to close, some are concerned the province's QuickCare clinics could be next.

"We've heard they may be on the chopping block as well," NDP critic Matt Wiebe told CBC News. "Coupled with the loss of an emergency room, in a community like Concordia in northeast Winnipeg, it could be absolutely devastating because it's taking away absolutely every point of contact that someone might have to get care in an urgent way."

QuickCare clinics are staffed with registered nurses and nurse practitioners to diagnose and treat minor health issues when most other clinics are closed. The clinics offer walk-in services and scheduled appointments.

Introduced in 2012 by the former NDP government, QuickCare clinics were touted as a cost-effective alternative to alleviate crowded ERs.

Five are now operating in the city and last year each clinic saw an average of 10,300 patients.

Wiebe warns with the abrupt closure of the St. Boniface QuickCare clinic in January over staffing issues, and plans to step up urgent care services, cuts could be in the cards.

"It's another point of contact for the health care system," Wiebe said. "What we're seeing now is entire communities where there is no QuickCare, no emergency care and no urgent care and in some cases seconds really do matter."

Under the province's new plan to consolidate emergency services, three Winnipeg ERs will close. Seven Oaks and Victoria General Hospital will see their departments converted to urgent care centres — a place to treat immediate but non-life threatening emergencies. 

Province 'still examining' clinics

On Monday, Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen said the province is continuing to monitor the benefits of QuickCare clinics.

"We're still examining QuickCare clinics and their usage in the city but I expect that that model will continue to have a role even if it's not exactly in the same locations," he said.

Goerzten said it's unclear if the introduction of two new urgent care clinics will diminish, or replace, the need for QuickCare facilities.

"I think we recognize this is a significant change," he said. "We'll want to monitor some of this as we go forward but they probably are dealing with some similar individuals." 

Goertzen said Winnipeg's Access clinics, which offer vulnerable communities health and social services, are working well but questions are being raised about whether it would beneficial for them to have QuickCare clinics on site.

'I don't see it as a competition'

The past president of the Nurse Practitioners Association of Manitoba said there is some concern about how the health care revamp will impact nurse practitioners.

Cindy Fehr said she's confident the locations of QuickCare clinics will continue to make health care more accessible.

"We're hopeful ...  that those QuickCare clinics will continue because they are meeting a need with patients within certain communities that maybe the urgent care clinics are not that close to," she said. 

Fehr said closing facilities would not be in the best interest of the public. 

"They are so many patients that need access to care," Fehr said. "I don't see it as a competition for patients. It really isn't. If the emergencies are going to be changed to an urgent care centre, there's still going to be a higher level of care than what was provided at a QuickCare clinic."