B.C.'s Health Minister says residents will have to "wait and see" whether the province can keep its word that everyone who wants a family doctor will have access by 2015.
Terry Lake's comments come as another B.C. community, the Interior town of Logan Lake, prepares to lose its lone physician. The minister expressed doubt Tuesday when asked if the province would be able to meet the deadline for its A GP for Me program.
"Well, we'll have to wait and see. We still have almost two years to achieve that," he said in an interview.
The Liberal government and Doctors of BC (previously known as the B.C. Medical Association) announced A GP for Me last February. The parties said all British Columbians who wanted a family doctor would have access by 2015.
Mr. Lake on Tuesday suggested access for all would, at best, be in place by late next year. And although A GP for Me was introduced to improve access to doctors, he suggested access to nurse practitioners could also count.
"We certainly made a very strong commitment that by the end of 2015 anyone who wanted a family physician in British Columbia would have access to a family physician or a family practitioner. So it could be a physician, it could be a nurse practitioner," he said.
The initial announcement for A GP for Me mentioned nurse practitioners only in passing.
Judy Darcy, the opposition NDP's health critic, said whether the deadline is the beginning of 2015 or the end, the government faces a massive challenge, one it's shown little indication of being able to meet.
"We haven't seen an awful lot of progress," she said, adding thousands of British Columbians don't have access to a family doctor.
Ms. Darcy said she believes the province could better utilize nurse practitioners, but that doesn't mean they should take the place of family doctors. "Nurse practitioners play a complementary role. They're absolutely critical both in rural and urban centres, but it's complementary," she said.
A Logan Lake nurse practitioner will extend her hours once that community's lone doctor leaves at the end of this week. Uzair Sheik, a doctor who has worked in the community for five years, plans to return to South Africa. He has said he's sorry to leave but cited multiple reasons. Logan Lake residents gathered at a forum Monday night to discuss the fact they will be without a doctor and the emergency room will close. Some expressed anger, others disappointment. "People are pretty darn concerned," Robin Smith, Logan Lake's acting mayor, said in an interview.
Ms. Smith said Logan Lake has marketed itself as a retirement community and has attracted quite a few seniors as a result. She said the town's average age is approximately 54 and many people won't be able to make the 40-minute trip to Kamloops to see a doctor there. Berni Easson, a spokeswoman for the Interior Health Authority, said that, although there is interest in the position, it could be a few months before a new doctor is hired. Ms. Easson said she understands it's very difficult for rural communities to lose their health professionals, but the health authority views bringing a new doctor in as a top priority. A spokeswoman for the province's Health Ministry said over the past five years B.C. has had an increase of about 13 per cent in the number of family physicians and specialists.