Monday, September 22, 2008

Rupert to benefit from extra funding for doctors in the north

Changes to the funding process for the Rural General Practitioner Locum Program could see some relief for Rupert residents currently without a doctor, or relying on the emergency ward at Prince Rupert Regional Hospital for their health care requirements.

Prince Rupert is among 18 northern and isolated communities which will see an increase of 800,000 dollars to the annual budget of 2.6 million dollars for the program, which will see a floating scale of renumeration depending on the isolated status of each community.

It will be interesting to see how the changes in renumeration will change the dynamic of health care in the Northwest and if it will relieve some of the current stress and strains that the Northern Health region and Prince Rupert is currently feeling.

The Daily News outlined the basic process of the program in Monday's paper.

Changes put healthy number of doctors in the North
By Kris Schumacher
The Daily News
Monday, September 22, 2008
Pages one and three

Prince Rupert will be one of many communities in the province to benefit from additional government funding to support physicians working in isolated regions.

More than 60 rural communities in British Columbia are set to benefit from changes to the province's rural doctor coverage program, made possible by a funding increase of approximately $800,000 to the $2.6 million provided annually for this program.

Changes to B.C.'s Rural General Practitioner Locum Program will increase financial incentives up to $1,000 per day based upon community isolation and the enhanced skills necessary to support the community's hospital.

"Physicians offering locum services to provide relief for general practitioners practising in eligible rural communities will be compensated at different rates depending on the degree of isolation of the community and on the additional skills they provide to hospitals in those rural communities," said Health Services Minister George Abbott.

"Revisions are also being made to B.C.'s Rural Specialist Locum Program to attract more locum relief for specialists working in eligible rural communities. The enhancements to our rural locum programs are part of our strategy to strengthen health-care services in rural communities and ensure that patients have the best access to medical care."

The Rural General Practitioner and the Rural Specialist Locum Programs are province-wide initiatives designed to help physicians working in eligible rural communities get subsidized periods of leave from their practices for vacation or continuing education.

These programs are developed and implemented in collaboration with the British Columbia Medical Association and the Canadian Medical Association through the Joint Standing Committee on Rural Issues (JSC).

"The Rural Locum Program provides a great opportunity for doctors to experience working and living in different areas of the province," said Dr. Granger Avery, co-chair of the JSC and a rural family physician.

"But more importantly, it reduces the challenges that rural doctors face when looking for locum replacements when time off from their practice is needed," said Dr. Avery. "We're pleased to work with the government on this program."

The new guidelines recognize differences in degrees of isolation of rural communities within four categories, eliminating the flat rate currently provided to all physicians for locum service and the standard number of days offered for potential locum relief. The province said the enhancements will strengthen medical coverage for B.C.'s more isolated and vulnerable communities, and will come into effect next month.

Physicians providing general practitioner locum services will be compensated at rates ranging from $750 to $900, depending on the degree of isolation of the host community. General practitioner locums will receive between $50 and $100 on top of the daily rate if they provide specific, core services needed by the rural hospital and provided by the host physician, which include general surgery, anesthesia, emergency medicine and obstetrics. Rural physicians will now receive up to 43 days of potential general practitioner locum support, depending on the level of isolation of the community where they practice.

The rate paid to specialists providing locum services to 18 rural communities will increase to $1,200 per day, and the potential number of days of locum relief for specialists in rural communities will increase to 35 days to recognize the time spent in professional development activities.

To be eligible for the general practitioner program, physicians must work in a community with seven or fewer physicians, and for the specialist program they must work in specified communities with fewer than five specialists working in the areas of general surgery, anesthesia, emergency medicine and obstetrics. The 18 designated Rural Specialist Locum Program communities are: Campbell River, Comox, Courtney, Cranbrook, Dawson Creek, Fort St. John, Kitimat, Nelson, Port Alberni, Powell River, Prince George, Prince Rupert, Quesnel, Sechelt, Smithers, Terrace, Trail and Williams Lake.

Communities such as Stewart, Burns Lake, Houston, Bella Coola and Queen Charlotte City will be among those eligible for the general practitioner locum relief program.

The JFC said the changes reflect the joint commitment by the government and the B.C. Medical Association to maintain B.C.'s national leadership position in the provision of health care services to rural communities.

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