Health Minister Adrian Dix said B.C. made significant progress in health care hirings between 2017 and 2022, but acknowledged the province will need to do more in future.
“(We) have to do more and more and more — 38,000 (new hires) in my first five years, 38,000 in the next five years in order to keep meeting demand and improve services for people,” he said. “(People) not just expect to meet demand, but have improvement in services.”
Dix made these comments Tuesday (Dec. 5) during an update on his government’s health and human resources strategy launched about little more than a year ago.
Dix spoke about improvements in the training and recruitment of nurses and doctors. His list included: plans to open a new medical school at Simon Fraser University, the first new medical school in western Canada in almost six decades; a new payment system for doctors; and improved collaboration as part of a hiring push of domestic and internationally trained nurses.
Pending measures include the introduction of physician assistants.
“We’ve got to do it all,” he said. “We’ve got to retain, we’ve got to recruit, we’ve got to re-design the system…and you have to train,” he said.
Dix said the provincial health care system needs to respond to a growing but aging population, with B.C. having added 250,000 people in the last two years.
“If you think of a family practice having 1,250 attached to it, that’s 200 family doctors just for the people coming to the province, just to keep standing where we were,” he said.
It is a challenge that B.C. has to meet, Dix added. He also pointed to the COVID-19 pandemic and the public health emergency that is the overdose crisis as additional pressure points on the health care system.
Dix also touched on the state of cancer care after a recent report in the Vancouver Sun showed wait times for radiation treatment have worsened.
“Since April 1, we have hired 61 new cancer doctors, 27 new radiation specialists in our system.”
Just 75 per cent of cancer patients are receiving radiation therapy within the Canadian benchmark of 28 days, according to B.C. Cancer Agency data, a drop from 77 per cent in May. The national average is 97 per cent.
Dix acknowledged those numbers, but predicted they will significantly improve.
“If you look at that number in isolation, you would say, ‘well, that’s a problem,’” he said. “But you got to provide care to people who are already beyond that bench-mark, who need the care now and you will see those numbers come down and that is precisely what is happening.”
Adding staff will reduce wait times across the system, he said. “We do have very significant increases in demand for cancer care and we are responding by a record number of procedures,” he said.
B.C. has also contracted two clinics in the United States for British Columbians to receive radiation treatment. Internal government documents dated Nov. 10 released by BC United Nov. 28 show the program is still gaining traction six months after its launch.
BC United said the program has serve less than a quarter of the patients the NDP had promised. Only 310 have started treatment. According to the document, 1,310 patients received referrals. Just over 400 chose to stay in Canada, while some 50 lacked travel documents.
BC United’s Shirley Bond, shadow minister for health care, has been critical of current developments.
“The crisis is so dire that we are sending patients to other countries for treatment — and even then, some patients are choosing to fund their own care in the U.S. because they cannot get through BC Cancer fast enough, ” Bond said.
Dix said about 393 people have received treatment and 330 have completed treatment, noting the contract allows up to 50 people per week to receive care.
“Hundreds of people getting care is good news,” he said.