The Cariboo Regional district plans to lobby for provincial funding to bring more medical locums to the region, in the wake of a shortage of doctors.
Directors voted last week to ask the North Central Local Government Association and Union of BC Municipalities to seek funding from the province to attract medical locums to small and mid-sized communities. The resolution was subject to support from the District of 100 Mile House and the City of Williams Lake.
Although locums are typically used to replace doctors when they go on leave, they “are keeping the primary physicians component afloat right now,” said Bob Simpson, chair of the Cariboo Chilcotin Regional Hospital District.
“In the South and Central, locums are just keeping the primary care capacity as robust as we can. Because we don’t have enough practitioners, locums are needed to fill the gap.”
Simpson said the hospital district has been struggling to find a general consultant for Williams Lake and 100 Mile, who will help Interior Health bring and keep health care officials in the two communities. He said the board is now in discussions with Interior Health to map out the issues and opportunities to ensure the region has the complement of doctors and health care officials it needs.
He noted many doctors these days no longer want to work 24/7 or do hospital duties, which compounds the issue.
CRD Chair Margo Wagner added the lack of transportation and rental housing also make it difficult. While there is some locum funding available through the Ministry of Health, she noted it’s only for small communities with fewer than seven doctors. 100 Mile House has more than that but still doesn’t have enough doctors to serve the growing region, she said.
“There is such a GP shortage across all of B.C. There are a lot of plum locations and locums and GPs want to go there,” she said. “It’s really tough to attract locums and costly because they need somewhere to stay. That’s not always available in the South Cariboo. It’s brutal.”
In 100 Mile House, four doctors left or retired last year. Others were planning to quit under the B.C. government’s vaccine mandate, but are now only required to record their vaccination status with their college.
A spokesperson with the ministry of health said B.C.’s current COVID-19 situation allows for more time for the Ministry and Public Health Office “to work with each college and their registrants to take a nuanced, risk-based approach to determine which regulated health professionals require vaccination or other safety measures to ensure they are practicing safely and protecting the public.”