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

‘Compassion club’ operator loses bid to have pot-trafficking charges thrown out

Bob Woolsey of Mission argues that laws were not valid at the time of alleged offences

Location eyed for possible collector well

New estimate puts price tag of new water source at $81 million

Police investigate sexual assault of teen girl in Abbotsford

Incident occurred Wednesday night along Oriole Crescent

Bad behaviour to lead to expulsion at Abbotsford council

New rules lay out how a member can be booted from a meeting

More extreme weather beds needed in Mission

Council allocates another $5,000 to help keep people safe, warm and dry

B.C. cougar kitten rescued after mother struck by vehicle

Conservation Officers find home for young kitten found dehydrated and frostbitten near Williams Lake

Ice-cream-eating bear draws controversy

An Alberta Wildlife Park posted a video this week of one of their bears going through a Dairy Queen drive-through

Police arrest pair after ‘high-risk vehicle takedown’

Vancouver police say replica handgun found in alleged suspects’ vehicle

Fernie, RCMP go to court over city log books in fatal ammonia leak probe

Log books center stage in clashing of investigations between the city and RCMP

B.C.’s biggest pot plant planned for Oliver

Co-founder Tony Holler said the 700,000 sq. ft. facility would produce 100,000 kg of pot per year

High-end whisky seized in B.C. bar raids

Raids end in seizures at Victoria, Nanaimo and Vancouver whisky joints

E-cig likely the cause of townhouse fire

Smoke and fire damage but no one was hurt in Chilliwack

Train derails in Northwest B.C.

CN reports no injuries or dangerous goods involved after coal train derailment.

Double-doubles and demonstrations: Employees rally outside Tim Hortons

Protests held in response to Ontario franchise owners cutting employee benefits and breaks

Most Read