Should Ottawa provide more money to provinces for health care now?

Poll: Federal health funding

The prime minister has repeatedly said the best time to talk about health transfers to provinces is after the pandemic winds down, which means now, Premier John Horgan said in Saskatchewan on Friday.

“Well we’re here today, the pandemic is waning, it’s becoming endemic, and it’s time now to have that conversation,” said Horgan, who was attending Western Canada’s provincial and territorial leaders meeting in Regina. “I would hope today would be the beginning of that commitment to come sit with us.”

It’s the first in-person meeting for the western premiers since the COVID-19 pandemic began, and federal health transfers and post-COVID recovery are topping the agenda.

Last year, the premiers asked Ottawa for a $28-billion increase to health transfers, which would bring the federal share to 35 per cent from 22 per cent. At the 2021 premiers’ conference, attended virtually, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the goal is to increase the transfers, but the conversation would have to happen once the pandemic was over.

About 900,000 British Columbians are without a family doctor, including about 100,000 on the south Island, and a recent report by clinic directory service Medimap said Victoria had the longest waits in Canada for walk-in clinics. About four walk-in clinics have closed in the capital region since January, largely as a result of staffing issues. Interim funding of $3.46 million was allocated to keep another five open.

Urgent and Primary Care Centres have been built as part of a larger plan to address primary care needs, but they are critically understaffed.

In the downtown Victoria UPCC, 45.66 full-time equivalent positions are funded but less than half — 21.61 — have been filled. At Nanaimo’s UPCC, 16.83 FTE positions are funded, but only 5.73 are staffed.

B.C. Liberal health critic Shirley Bond recently said in question period that fewer than two per cent of people who don’t have a doctor have been attached to one through UPCCs.

The province has about 6,800 trained family doctors, but only about 3,500 practise in that role, according to Family Doctors for Better Patient Care in B.C.

On Friday, Horgan blamed the primary-care crisis largely on insufficient federal funding.

“We have shortages of general practitioners because of challenges with funding. Is it just about money? Yeah, it’s about money, because the money translates into services for people.”

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