The B.C. government’s new contract with 12,000 doctors contains only a 0.5 per cent annual increase in pay for office visits, as the government shifts from fee-for-service to primary care clinics with physicians on salary.
The raise in traditional doctor pay is only one quarter of the standard settlement with B.C. government unions in the NDP government’s wage mandate. The deal also includes pension improvements, support for increasingly scarce family practice and primary care networks that are expanding to reach the growing number of people who can’t find a family doctor.
Health Minister Adrian Dix acknowledged that as baby boom doctors retire, new physicians are less likely to take over a family practice “and the administrative burden that comes with it.” One result is over-use of hospital emergency departments, as family doctors restrict their office hours.
By the end of the three-year contract with doctors, overall spending is to be $331 million per year. The largest budget increase is $104.3 million to increase rural medical programs and after-hours services.
Dix announced the seventh “urgent and primary care centre” for Nanaimo April 3. The ministry defines urgent primary care as conditions that need attention within 12 to 24 hours, including minor cuts and burns, sprains, ear infections and urinary problems. They serve as a base for primary care teams that include nurse practitioners, mental health and addiction specialists and others in teams. The first five communities are Comox, South Okanagan-Similkameen, Prince George, Richmond and Burnaby, expanding around the province this year.
Announcing the Burnaby primary care centre in March, Dix pledged that the centre and networks will recruit 68 new health care providers over the next three years. This includes 10 general practitioners, 10 nurse practitioners, three pharmacists and 45 nursing and allied health care professionals.
Dix didn’t comment on whether existing family doctors are being recruited to staff primary care centres.