Closure of primary care at community clinics must be reversed

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Government decision will cost many patients their doctors, hurt health care reform and cost more money 

VANCOUVER – Vancouver Coastal Health’s decision to eliminate primary care at three community health centres – Evergreen, South Vancouver and Pacific Spirit – will cause thousands to lose their family doctors and undermine health care across the city, NDP Leader Adrian Dix and health critic Judy Darcy said today.

Last week, Vancouver Coastal Health confirmed these three community health care clinics are now slated to lose their primary and preventive care programs, as those services are consolidated into the Raven Song center. An overwhelming majority of existing patients – approximately 95 per cent – will not be eligible for these primary care services, which under the new criteria will only be available to the most frail and compromised patients. These patients will now be forced to travel much greater distances to receive basic essential care.

“All but the most vulnerable patients are going to be forced to find a new family doctor under this plan,” said Dix. “And those who will see their files transferred to Raven Song may not be able to travel there. This is true for many in the community served by Evergreen as much as frail seniors provided primary care services at Pacific Spirit.

“Worse, these changes will not save money,” Dix said. “Lives will be disrupted, communities will lose basic health services so that patients can be transferred from a Vancouver Coastal Health clinic to a doctor’s office paid for through billings to MSP. Clinics such as Evergreen, South Vancouver and Pacific Spirit provide exactly the kind of multidisciplinary primary care that should be the future of health care. In recent years, the clinics have been starved of resources and now they are losing their basic services.”

Dix was joined by affected patients, health critic Judy Darcy, and Vancouver city councilor Kerry Jang.

Darcy pointed out that these cuts conflict with the Liberals own goal to ensure that those British Columbians who want a family doctor will have one by 2015.

“Not only is the government not on track to meet its promise that all British Columbians wanting a family doctor will have one by 2015, this cut sets them back further,” said Darcy. “Thousands of patients are now losing their family doctor, adding to the 100,000 Vancouver residents already searching for one.”

New Democrats also commented on how the Liberals’ lack of leadership on innovative primary care reform is underpinning the loss of these primary care services. Vancouver Coastal Health’s own external review admits that the Liberals have not supported a provincial policy that supports the establishment and cultivation of interdisciplinary primary care clinics.

“The absence of this policy has meant that there has been no real shift towards establishing and funding such clinics, creating the circumstances that are allowing for these cuts to move forward,” said Dix.

Darcy said these cuts leave B.C. even further behind in improving primary health care compared to other jurisdictions.

“For example, Ontario has met the challenge of improving primary care through establishing community health care centres and nurse practitioner-led clinics, both which are organized around an interdisciplinary, and preventative health care model. Meanwhile in B.C., since 2006, this Liberal government has essentially abandoned taking real action on fostering this kind of primary care delivery.”

“This decision will leave patients in need without doctors, increase acute care costs, undermine health care reform and cost more money. It can and must be reversed and communities across Vancouver will mobilize to see that the B.C. government and Vancouver Coastal Health get the message,” Dix concluded.