Province commits cash for rural health

Cash is coming from BC gov't to help rural areas like Trail retain its doctors, but just how that money will be spent is still not known.

Cash is coming from the province to help rural areas like Trail retain its doctors, but just how that money will be spent is still not known, said the former head of the area’s surgical department.

Dr. Andre De Greef said there was $10 million put aside in the new deal between the province and its doctors last week to address the problem of retaining rural doctors, but the details of that agreement have yet to be worked out.

He said doctors should know final results of the deal by mid October.

“The BC Medical Association sent out a memo on how (the fund) is yet to be determined, how the money will be applied, and where it is going to go,” he said. “Nothing is definite at this stage.”

On July 23 the province’s doctors ratified a new four-year agreement expected to support efforts to recruit and retain physicians, while also improving access to specialists and care in rural and remote communities.

Through the province’s committee on rural issues, it was identified that doctors working in rural and remote communities faced “unique circumstances compared to their urban colleagues.”

As a result, $10 million will be made available in the new agreement to enhance physician services in rural and remote community in places like Trail and Nelson.

“This money will support the delivery of stable community practices and emergency room services as well as support ongoing training and skill development for physicians and locum coverage during vacancies,” read a release from the Ministry of Health.

It could be welcome news for such areas as the Kootenay Boundary Regional Hospital’s anesthesiology department, a five-person department that has been functioning at reduced levels for several months while the hospital struggled to fill vacant positions.

Interior Health Authority (IHA) has been recruiting to get as many as two positions filled at various points in the last year. KBRH has had some success with locums—people coming in for a short period of time—while other physicians have come in to explore the situation.

The total provincial agreement was valued at approximately $100 million over two years, $49 million for the first year and $51 million for the second year—a 1.5 per cent increase in each year according to the province.

Funding for the first two years of the agreement includes $14 million to respond to recruitment and retention issues for doctors on service or salary contracts, and $10 million to enhance the supply and stability of doctors in rural and remote communities as well as access to emergency care.

As well, there will be $10 million to address difficulties in recruiting and retaining specialists.