Surrey Memorial Hospital's expanded emergency was reporting crowding soon after it opened.

Surrey Memorial Hospital's expanded emergency was reporting crowding soon after it opened.

Annual health care crisis grips B.C.

Patients flood ER each winter expecting flu treatment that doesn't exist, walk-in clinic service or relief from bad judgment

VICTORIA – The annual ritual of declaring a crisis in health care is upon us, with the B.C. Liberal government boasting that we have the best system in Canada, while the NDP and the B.C. Nurses’ Union try to portray it as the worst.

The BCNU is the last big public sector union still to settle in the latest round of contract talks. Feeding horror stories to the media is part of its strategy, and this time it was a patient at Abbotsford Hospital assigned a bed in a small shower room for a month due to chronic overcrowding. Hospital officials said his care wasn’t compromised.

We’ve seen it in Abbotsford, Surrey and elsewhere: a new hospital or expansion is built and is immediately overcrowded. We are reminded every winter that influenza season brings a wave of people into emergency, expecting treatment for a viral infection that in most cases can only run its course.

The problem peaks around Christmas, when more patients than usual use ER as their walk-in clinic.

Many people still don’t understand what “the flu” is, beyond the notion that it sounds serious enough to tell the boss you won’t be in to work. And as fewer doctors choose the endless demands of family practice, the expectation that all problems must be dealt with quickly and for free seems to grow as inexorably as the health care budget.

An emergency physician of my acquaintance provided a typical scenario for night shift at the ER. Where once nights were quiet, now there are patients waiting for hours, around the clock.

Several are drunk, and one has urinated on the floor. Surveys show as many as half of ER visits are alcohol-related, from overdoses to fights, falls, car crashes and chronic conditions.

Into this chaos comes a mother with her young child, who has nasal and chest congestion. The child’s cough led her to throw up, so off to ER they went, blithely assuming that this is where you bring a kid with a cold.

This week’s B.C. budget brings us a step closer to the moment when half of all provincial revenues go to keep the health care system running.

In the legislature, NDP health critic Judy Darcy blasted Health Minister Terry Lake for the government’s failure to keep its 2010 promise to find everyone in B.C. a family doctor.

Lake allowed they’re still working on that, and then plugged the latest Conference Board of Canada study showing B.C. ranks third in the world in health care outcomes, second only to Switzerland and Sweden.

Darcy, a former executive of the Hospital Employees’ Union, was quick to respond: “This is surely a first in question period, the Minister of Health going back to the record of the NDP government in the 1990s, because we’ve had the best health outcomes in Canada since 1993. The fact is that we exercise more, we smoke less and we drink less, and that’s to the credit of British Columbians.”

We also have more elderly people, as Premier Christy Clark argued in 2011 when the federal government changed its financing formula.

After years of increasing transfers by six per cent per year, the late federal finance minister Jim Flaherty announced that starting in 2014, increases would be tied to economic growth, but wouldn’t fall below three per cent.

This of course was treated as a cut, rather than continued increases above inflation. But there it is, and all provinces have to deal with it.

Darcy is quite right that personal responsibility is the key, something to remember as the usual squabbling of special interests continues.

Tom Fletcher is legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Twitter: @tomfletcherbc

 

Just Posted

Dan Albas
COLUMN: Reopening the international border

Governments in Canada and the United States are working towards reopening plans for the border

Okanagan Lake (File photo)
Thompson-Okanagan ready to welcome back tourists

The Thompson-Okanagan Tourism Association expects this summer to be a busy one

A committee held its first meeting on June 9 to consider opionions for incorporation of the community of Okanagan Falls. At present, Okanagan Falls is the largest unincorporated community within the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen. (Contributed)
Study begins for Okanagan Falls incorporation

Committee held first meeting on June 9

A for sale sign is shown in by new homes in Beckwith, Ont., just outside Ottawa, on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Thompson-Okanagan population grew despite COVID-19: report

The Chartered Professional Accountants of BC said there are 8,462 new residents in the region

File photo
Princeton mayor ready to support referendum if proposal for $7 million loan gets defeated

A proposal to borrow $7 million to fix town infrastructure may well… Continue reading

People line up to get their COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre, Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Vaccines, low COVID case counts increase Father’s Day hope, but risk is still there

Expert says people will have to do their own risk calculus before popping in on Papa

Salmon Arm’s Brook Kosick competes in the barrel racing event at a BC High School Rodeo Association rodeo in Quesnel, which was held from June 11-13, 2021. (Cassidy Dankochik - Black Press)
VIDEO: Shuswap rodeo athlete barrels through competition

Salmon Arm rider Brook Kosick thrilled to compete in provincial finals

A vehicle was fully engulfed in flames before around 11:10 p.m. Wednesday, June 16, 2021. (Kerry Hutter - contributed)
VIDEO: Car fire snuffed in Coldstream

Vernon firefighters douse late-night fire near popular lake lookout

John Kromhoff with some of the many birthday cards he received from ‘pretty near every place in the world’ after the family of the Langley centenarian let it be known that he wasn’t expecting many cards for his 100th birthday. (Special to Langley Advance Times)
Cards from all over the world flood in for B.C. man’s 100th birthday

An online invitation by his family produced a flood of cards to mark his 100th birthday

FILE – Nurse Iciar Bercian prepares a shot at a vaccine clinic for the homeless in Calgary, Alta., Wednesday, June 2, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
B.C. scientists to study effectiveness of COVID vaccines in people with HIV

People living with HIV often require higher doses of other vaccines

A 50-year-old woman lost control of her vehicle Tuesday, June 15, crashing through a West Vancouver school fence that surrounds playing children. (West Vancouver Police)
Driver ticketed for speeding near B.C. school crashes into playground fence days later

‘It’s an absolute miracle that nobody was injured,’ says Const. Kevin Goodmurphy

Dr. Réka Gustafson, who is British Columbia’s deputy provincial health officer, speaks during a news conference in Vancouver on April 8, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. public health officials prepare to manage COVID-19 differently in the future

Flu-like? Health officials anticipate shift from pandemic to communicable disease control strategies

Maxwell Johnson is seen in Bella Bella, B.C., in an undated photo. The Indigenous man from British Columbia has filed complaints with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal and the Canadian Human Rights Commission after he and his granddaughter were handcuffed when they tried to open a bank account. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Heiltsuk Nation, Damien Gillis, *MANDATORY CREDIT*
VIDEO: Chiefs join human rights case of Indigenous man handcuffed by police in B.C. bank

Maxwell Johnson said he wants change, not just words, from Vancouver police

Most Read