Local docs receive funding for days off

Cranbrook general practitioners can now hire locums for up to 10 days each year while they take time away from surgeries

Life is about to get a little easier for doctors in Cranbrook and other rural B.C. communities.

A new program by the B.C. Medical Association (BCMA) will fund a replacement for up to 10 days each year for a general practitioner (GP) with anesthesia training.

“What it allows them to do is have up to 10 days a year off and yet not disrupt the flow of the operating room because it doesn’t have an anesthetist, rather to keep patient services going because a locum will come in and replace them for that time away,” explained Dr. Shelley Ross, BCMA president.

Starting October 1, the BCMA will maintain a locum pool made up of fellow GPs with anesthesia training who are willing to spend up to 10 days in the community while a local GP has time away for vacation or education leave.

“This is just one more program to try and improve the lives of physicians in rural communities so they can offer good service to their patients,” said Dr. Ross.

“If we can make the provision of health care easier for them and yet give them the opportunity to get away once in a while, it’s going to encourage people to want to work in the rural areas.”

Without the program, patients would spend longer on a wait list for elective surgeries, such as gall bladder removal or hernia repair, Dr. Ross explained, “or it would mean the GP couldn’t go on vacation.

“This (will) keep the continuity and the flow of the operating room going steadily despite somebody being away for education leave or vacation,” she said.

The program is tailored for rural and remote communities, where there is often a shortage of doctors.

“It’s not only Cranbrook; it’s a big issue for all rural and remote communities. You’ve got to keep your physician manpower numbers up,” said Dr. Ross.

To qualify, the community must have less than eight practicing GPs with anesthesia training, and be more than 70 kilometres away from a major medical centre.

The locum program was developed in conjunction with the provincial government. In July, B.C.’s doctors signed an agreement that supports ongoing efforts to recruit and retain physicians, including specialists, for rural and remote communities. The Physician Master Agreement provides $10 million to help enhance physician services in rural and remote communities.