Representatives from walk-in clinics around the province are meeting at a conference this week to discuss BC’s “primary care crisis.”

The University of British Columbia’s Centre for Health Services and Policy Research (CHSPR) calculates there are currently 300,000 British Columbians seeking a family doctor, 10,000 of whom live in Prince George. Many have to rely on emergency rooms and walk-in clinics for medical service, says Founding Director of the Walk-in Clinics of BC Association Mike McLoughlin.

“(The) Emerge(ncy room) really isn’t set up to do ongoing primary care very well. The walk-in clinics, they have their own electronic medical records, so they have a continuity of records so even though you may not see the same physician at the clinic for you have the same medical record at that clinic,” he says, “so the physicians that check in there will be seeing the notes from previous visits and they can then make the appropriate decisions going forward.”

CHSPR notes physician vacancies are up 27% this year, despite there being more registered doctors in BC now than ever before. Walk-in clinics help meet the service demand, but there have still been more than 45 closures over the past five years.

McLoughlin says there’s been an increase in retail clinics, like ones in pharmacies and grocery stores. The business provides workspace and doctors are responsible for all staff and equipment within. The overhead from the retail operators makes it more affordable for doctors, meanwhile, the business benefits from the extra customers.

All of these concerns will be address during Friday’s A Very Valuable Service conference in Burnaby. While the professionals work out the specifics, McLoughlin says everyone else can tackle the issue by interacting with their MLA’s.

“The public needs to be educated about the fact of the shortage of family doctors and they need to be mobilized so that our politicians, who are responsible for providing us with these Medical Services, they’re doing that,” he says, “the Canada Healthcare Act entitles us to access to Primary Care. This is what it means to be Canadian and we ‘ought to have these services available to us and we ‘ought to have enough physicians in the province to be able to supply people with family doctors who need them.”