Within the next year, B.C. says pharmacists will be prescribing certain medications, first responders will be performing more medical duties and medical schools will have dozens more seats to offer prospective students.
The three promises are among 70 actions the province announced Thursday (Sept. 29) with the release of its five-year Health Human Resources Strategy. The strategy aims to address the health-care worker shortage by expanding roles and responsibilities in some areas and breaking down barriers in others.
Pharmacists to prescribe medications by spring 2023
Pharmacists, for instance, will soon play a far greater role in people’s health care. Beginning Oct. 14, B.C.’s 6,500 pharmacists will have the power to renew a wider range of medications for up to 24 months and administer a greater number of drugs. The biggest change will come next spring, though, when pharmacists will be allowed to prescribe medications for common issues like acne, allergies and urinary tract infections, as well as contraceptives.
This will be limited to the approximately one million people who don’t have a family doctor, according to the province.
First responders will also be taking on more duties to shift the burden away from emergency rooms. The province says paramedics will be trained on restoring or maintaining a patient’s breathing, providing them with pain killers and offering other life support. Other first responders, such as firefighters, will be able to test patients’ blood pressure and blood glucose, administer epinephrine and help prepare patients for transport.
The additional duties do not come with an increase in pay.
UBC to add 128 new medical school spots
At the same time, the province says it plans to increase the number of people entering the workforce. The UBC Faculty of Medicine will add 40 new annual undergraduate seats and 40 new annual postgraduate seats across its four different sites beginning in fall 2023. It will also add 48 new annual residency positions by fall 2028.
Plans to open a second medical school at Simon Fraser University also remain underway, although delayed at least several years. The province originally said things would be up-and-running by fall 2024, but now says it will likely be fall 2026.
The province says B.C.’s medical colleges are also committed to reducing barriers to the estimated several-thousand international medical graduates currently living here and unable to practise. Announcements on this are expected in the coming months.
Addressing anti-Indigenous racism
The strategy further commits to implementing the recommendations of the In Plain Sight report, which found evidence of widespread and systemic racism against Indigenous people in B.C.’s health-care system.
The province says it plans to recruit more Indigenous people to senior health-care positions, help Indigenous students to get into the medical sector and develop workplace supports for those already working in it. It hasn’t yet made any concrete commitments in this regard.
No new updates on family physician payment model
The strategy does not touch on new compensation plans for family physicians. Health Minister Adrian Dix says the province remains in discussions with Doctors of BC on this.
What is the current situation?
According to the strategy report:
- There are over 12,000 health-care worker vacancies throughout the province.
- Claims for mental health disorders from work have gone up nearly 43 per cent in the health-care sector over five years.
- About 17 per cent of all time-loss workplace injury claims in B.C. are from the health-care sector.
- A 2021 survey of Hospital Employees Union members found one in four were considering quitting in the next two years.
- Indigenous people make up about five per cent of the population in B.C., but only 2.5 per cent of health-care workers and 0.9 per cent of physicians.
- 12 per cent of British Columbians live in rural or remote communities, but just six per cent of B.C.’s nurses support them.
- Health-care worker shortages are two times higher in rural and remote communities than in urban ones.
- Demand for health services is projected to rise 14 per cent in B.C. by 2032.
- The World Health Organization estimates there will be a global shortage of 15 million health-care workers by 2030.
The full strategy can be read at news.gov.bc.ca.