Recent History – 2000
Sept. 29, 2000, By Mark Nielsen, Daily News Staff
Dr. Jim Hargreaves foresees the day when the Dawson Creek is so lacking in specialists that not even an appendix can be removed at the city’s hospital.
Instead, he said the patient will have to be shipped off to Prince George or Vancouver for an operation that most people take for granted.
“The reality is we’re looking at a GP (general practitioners) hospital,” Hargreaves said. “We’d be providing basic obstetrics and we’d be providing stabilization for transport.”
Dawson Creek is already in something like that situation now, as doctors are refusing to perform surgery at the hospital except in life- or limb-threatening situations.
Physicians say the job action, which has spread to 14 communities throughout the province, is the only way to make Victoria’s aware that rural communities risk losing specialists to larger centres.
The action was sparked by a $10 million deal cut with doctors in Prince George after they walked out in June because of long hours of being on call and a lack of funding to retain and recruit physicians.
Doctors say that deal, and a similar $1.7 million settlement reached with physicians in Williams Lake, has created an unlevel playing field that will lead to a loss of specialists to those centres.
Matters weren’t helped by the province’s latest offer for doctors in Dawson Creek, a $1.3 million package that even Ministry of Health communications officer Jeff Gaulin admits is not as good as what specialists in Prince George would get.
But Gaulin said more money had to be given to Prince George to stem a high turnover rate amongst specialists in the Spruce City.
“If we give everybody Prince George, we’ll be in the same situation because Prince George no advantage,” Gaulin said.
Hargreaves has a strong idea about where specialists will go when they have a choice between Prince George and a rural community. He wants the government to come up with a more equitable offer.
Even as it currently stands, doctors say that Dawson Creek is short of physicians. Ideally, they say there should be two general surgeons, two orthopedic surgeons, two intern surgeons, four psychiatrists (to serve the entire Peace-Liard), and two radiology specialists. Instead, there is one general surgeon, no orthopedics surgeons, one intern surgeon, one psychiatrist, and one radiology specialists.
And once the specialists start to leave, Hargreaves said the general practitioners will follow.
“They don’t want to raise families in a community that cannot provide surgical services,” he said. “They don’t feel that their children should be exposed to that kind of danger.”
Hargreaves agrees that there are some services that are simply too expensive to be provided except in a larger centre. “Microsurgery, cardiac surgery, stuff like that, it’s understandable. We can’t expect everything up here,” he said.
But he fears that the pendulum continues to swing too far in the other direction.
“If an eight-year-old comes in with belly pain and needs an appendix removed, a very simple operation, are we saying we have to send all our children out to Vancouver to see a general surgeon?” he said.