Comment: Why the long wait to see a doctor in Victoria?


Here’s how to start a conversation on social media — or in a coffee shop, a crowded bus or at a party in Greater Victoria. Talk about health-care waits. Everyone has a story.

Our own conversation began this way: A text from a daughter in Australia whose physiotherapist had referred her for an MRI. Startling as it was that a physiotherapist and not a physician was ordering the MRI, the appointment date for the procedure was even more eye-opening.

The next day. Within 24 hours on a referral from a physiotherapist for a non life-threatening issue, the MRI was complete; all within the Australian public health-care system.

This anecdote was posted on social media, and friends weighed in with their own experiences: an 8.5-month wait for a MRI, a continuing wait for a cortisone shot after a privately purchased MRI, a nearly two-year wait for a back-pain diagnosis, and so on.

Equally, when lives have been at stake, people were quick to acknowledge efficient and professional care. When it comes to saving lives in B.C., the system generally works.

But what of the other stuff, the life-quality medical issues that hamper mobility, and can’t be managed without meds?

Like so many, we have personal experience of wait times that have gone into the double digits. In our own homes, the stories go like this: a 20-month wait for a diagnosis for debilitating pain that was eventually relieved with day surgery, and a continuing wait to see a specialist, eight months after the sudden paralysis of a limb.

In size and demographics, Australia and Canada aren’t so different. Both are vast, with relatively small populations concentrated in a few urban centres. Both have a national government and health care managed by provincial/state and territorial governments. There is more privatized involvement in Australia’s health-care maze, but in the case of that MRI ordered by the physiotherapist, it was public all the way.

Over the past few years, something has gone awry in health care in Greater Victoria — the area we’re most familiar with.

According to the websites of both the Victoria Medical Society and the B.C. College of Physicians and Surgeons, no family doctors are accepting new patients in Greater Victoria.

Walk-in clinics are at overload, and some lock their doors when they reach their breaking point.

Emergency departments are crowded with people who simply need to see a doctor.

Once seen by a physician, a patient might require a consultation with a specialist, and so begins the wait. Common wisdom says you should be your own advocate, but self-advocacy can be blocked by phone trees and the long wait for your file to float to the top.

People are hurting, their health declining as they wait to access services that seem prohibitively inaccessible. And unless something changes soon, it will only get worse. The hips and knees of the front end of the baby-boom bulge are hitting the system now.

Like many, we are frustrated and without solutions. In many communities, nurse practitioners, able to diagnose and prescribe, take the pressure off at-capacity physician offices. And certainly in other jurisdictions diagnostic equipment such as MRIs are seen as obvious first-choice diagnostic tools, not an exotic down-the-road resource.

People are eager to talk about their experiences and frustrations with wait times and a lack of physicians in Greater Victoria. The system needs to be examined.

As we move into election season, we ask, whatever their leanings, politicians existing and aspiring put health-care conversations and change high on their agendas.


Gery Lemon and David Screech live in View Royal.

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