The Yukon government is criticized for failing to act quickly or decisively to address the loss of the territory’s only walk-in medical clinic over the summer.
After one of the clinic’s two doctors left the Yukon, the walk-in portion of the office was closed due to staffing issues.
Clinic staff have yet to find a replacement doctor, so the clinic remains closed to walk-in traffic.
It is a blow to one of more than 2,000 Yukoners without a family doctor who relied on the service as an alternative to a hospital emergency room for routine matters such as prescription refills.
NDP MP Emily Tredger raised the issue during Question Period in the Legislature on Wednesday and fought with Health and Human Services Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee over it.
âOver a month ago, the Yukon lost its only walk-in medical clinic,â Tredger reminded MPs.
âFor over 2,000 Yukoners who don’t have a family doctor, this was their only access to primary care. It was their only place to get prescriptions, exams, and referrals.
âNow all of these people have to go to the already crowded emergency room (hospital) for elective care. It’s a massive waste of health care resources, âTredger said.
“What immediate steps is the minister taking to close this giant gap in health services?” “
McPhee did not answer the question directly. Rather, she spoke about the challenges the Yukon faces in recruiting physicians.
âIt is, of course – and I say ‘of course’ because everyone knows that, during and before the pandemic, recruiting doctors and nurses has always been a problem.
âWhat I learned recently is that not everyone knows that the doctors’ clinics here in the territory operate as private businesses, so we don’t have any notification that they are going to close or that they are going to be closed. they’re going to stop taking clients or stop providing service to Yukoners, âMcPhee said.
“It’s becoming something to be addressed through, I think, recruiting doctors and nurses.”
Through the Putting People First report, McPhee told the House, the government has learned that about 21 percent of Yukoners do not have access to a family doctor.
âIt’s serious business,â she said. âAs we implement the report’s recommendations, we continue and are committed to ensuring that Yukoners have access to primary health care services.
âThe pandemic has significantly affected our ability to recruit nurses, doctors and other health care providers. “
Long-time Whitehorse resident Marianne Blythe is among those affected by the situation.
She spoke to The Star a week ago about her medical care for chronic kidney disease.
Blythe said she trusted the clinic and was a patient of the doctor who moved south.
She needs regular blood tests to check her kidney function and said she has a standing order for these tests.
However, her doctor no longer practicing in the territory, her last series of tests became a test.
Staff at Whitehorse General Hospital told him the standing order was no longer valid and it took several hours before the paperwork for the simple test could be sorted out.
Now, Blythe said, she has to go to the emergency room every time she needs a test. This puts additional pressure on herself and on frontline medical staff, she stressed.
Blythe said she does not understand why the government cannot set up its own clinic to serve residents of the Yukon who do not have a doctor.
She cited the creation last month of the Sixth Avenue supervised consumption site for recreational drug users as an example of what can happen when there is an incentive to do something.
Tredger had the same question for McPhee.
“While I appreciate the minister wanting to shift the blame onto private clinics, the delivery of primary health care is the responsibility of the government,” she noted.
âThis waiting list did not appear overnight. It wasn’t caused by the walk-in clinic closing, but without walk-in service, the people on this list have no other place to go than the emergency room, âsaid the MLA for Center Whitehorse.
âCan we really say that our health care system is universal when there are more than 2,000 people waiting for a family doctor? she asked McPhee.
âEmergency healthcare workers are already exhausted and overwhelmed. Now they have to deal with this government’s lack of vision and leadership in health care. It could have been avoided, but here we are, âTredger added.
“Does the minister expect the hospital to be the primary care provider for an additional 2,000 people who have nowhere to go?”
McPhee stuck to his recruiting pitch rather than answering the specific question.
âAs I noted, the pandemic has significantly affected our ability to get people to move across the country and come to new places to work in many areas,â the minister replied.
âWe continue to explore options for connecting Yukoners to primary health care services. Previously, we have connected more than 1,000 Yukoners with a physician through the Find a Family Doctor program, expanded access to virtual care alternatives, and increased the number of resident pediatricians and psychiatrists alike. important elements of the description the member opposite gave of the health care system. ”
As the government implements People First, she said, âwe are looking to hire additional nurse practitioners. We are meeting with the Yukon Medical Association to discuss a physician recruitment and retention plan.
âThe bilingual health center will soon open in January 2022. We believe this will relieve some pressures and that the primary health care facility in Whitehorse should reduce some of the pressures on the primary health care system.
Tredger immediately retaliated.
âIt’s not a lack of solutions; it is a lack of political will, âsaid the New Democrat.
âRight now, Yukoners need nurse practitioners, dietitians, registered nurses, midwives, psychologists and physicians. It is the government’s responsibility to ensure that residents of Whitehorse and those living in rural Yukon have adequate access to primary care.
“When is the government going to open a public walk-in clinic?”
During a session with reporters after question period, McPhee declined to provide a straightforward answer to this question – until it was cornered by a CKRW radio reporter.
In response to his direct question, McPhee simply said the government has no plans to open a walk-in clinic.
No explanation was provided, as she again touched on the topic of recruiting medical staff.
Yukon Party Leader Currie Dixon also weighed in on the issue, calling McPhee “out of touch.”
He suggested that she was not even aware of the problems caused by the lack of clinical services for Yukoners.