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Island UPCCs, PCNs, and CHCs are at just 39% of staffing goals—the lowest in BC

Health minister defends progress, says quality of care without recent investments ‘would have been considerably less’

Latest News
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Island UPCCs, PCNs, and CHCs are at just 39% of staffing goals—the lowest in BC

Health minister defends progress, says quality of care without recent investments ‘would have been considerably less’

Health Minister Adrian Dix speaks at the groundbreaking of the James Bay UPCC in November 2019. Photo: BC Government / Flickr.
Health Minister Adrian Dix speaks at the groundbreaking of the James Bay UPCC in November 2019. Photo: BC Government / Flickr.
Latest News
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Island UPCCs, PCNs, and CHCs are at just 39% of staffing goals—the lowest in BC

Health minister defends progress, says quality of care without recent investments ‘would have been considerably less’

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Island UPCCs, PCNs, and CHCs are at just 39% of staffing goals—the lowest in BC
Health Minister Adrian Dix speaks at the groundbreaking of the James Bay UPCC in November 2019. Photo: BC Government / Flickr.

Recent Health Ministry documents shared through a Freedom of Information filing present a dire picture for those seeking primary care on the Island.

According to the documents shared in the BC legislature by Health Minister Adrian Dix, Island Health has filled just 203 full-time-equivalent roles across its primary care networks (PCNs), urgent and primary care centres (UPCCs), community health centres (CHCs), and nurse practitioner-led primary care centres (NP-PCCs), despite having room for 2.5 times the amount.

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The numbers are starkest for Victoria’s primary care network, which has hired just 1 full-time physician and 2 nurse practitioners since its launch was announced in July of last year—well short of the 12 and 16, respectively, the PCN has set as its target.

Minister Dix has touted primary care networks—intended to give patients better access to family practitioners, nurses, mental health therapists, and other specialists—as "transforming how we deliver primary care" and "bringing the needs of patients and their health-care workers to the forefront."

Altogether, the Island’s health authority has hired just 3% of staff targeted for the Victoria PCN, with 28 nursing roles, 26 allied health roles, 4 pharmacists, and 8 Indigenous health specialists all unfilled.

UPCCs facing ongoing staffing issues

Island-wide, urgent and primary care centres have been facing ongoing recruitment challenges, with 5 of the Island’s 6 UPCCs reporting staffing levels ranging from 34% to 63%.

The centres were introduced in 2018 to fill a niche between walk-in clinics and hospital emergency rooms, and were touted by Dix as a solution to the province’s family doctor shortage. But they have struggled with staffing, particularly in Greater Victoria, where Saanich Peninsula Hospital emergency care physician Dr. Jeff Unger told Capital Daily his and other hospitals’ ERs are filling up with patients who can’t get into a clinic.

Per the staffing numbers, the Downtown Victoria UPCC has physician coverage amounting to just 6 full-time positions and 0 nurse practitioners, despite being set up to carry 22 and 2 respectively. According to retired specialist Dr. Adrian Fine, a nurse at the James Bay UPCC told him during a recent visit that the clinic "virtually never" has a doctor on site. Meanwhile, as of March 3, no new patients had been attached to the Esquimalt UPCC which opened in June 2021.

"This government and multiple governments before that have failed," Unger told us in April, adding that UPCCs fall short in providing patients with ongoing care, rather than single-visit treatment.

"[The ministry] like[s] to talk about… the 27 Urgent Care [centres opened] since 2017 [seeing] over a million urgent care visits. But there are almost certainly 2 [to] 4 times that many visits that needed to be seen and they’ve been an absolute failure on attaching any patients for longitudinal care."

Dix defends progress amid opposition pressure

The health ministry’s documents came forward after prompts from BC Liberal health critic Shirley Bond, who has accused the province of "dodging questions about the lack of family doctors in BC," and called the province’s health-care crisis "unacceptable."

Dix defended his government’s actions to Global News, saying, "Had we not had UPCCs the quality of life and quality of care for people would have been considerably less."

"Because they were open, because they stayed open, because they are in communities around the province, because they were open on weekends and the evenings made an enormous difference to people. I don’t think anyone can say 1.3 million visits in a period of pandemic… didn’t make a difference."

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