Recent turmoil at the Brandon Clinic and the Manitoba Clinic (in downtown Winnipeg) should serve as a warning to the Manitoba government that the province’s primary care system requires urgent action to ensure that patients and families have access to the care they need in a timely and responsive manner.

“In terms of the services they provide, the Brandon Clinic and the Manitoba Clinic (in Winnipeg) should be considered ‘too big to fail’,” said Thomas Linner, provincial director of the Manitoba Health Coalition. “The Manitoba government must be prepared to step in and take over operation of these clinics if necessary to preserve primary and specialist care for thousands of patients and to ensure that emergency rooms and urgent care clinics are not further overwhelmed.”

The Brandon Clinic has recently laid off staff and cut walk-in services in a bid to save money; the Manitoba Clinic is desperately seeking to avoid financial collapse. Both of these financial crises have been caused by the physician shortage in Manitoba. According to Doctors Manitoba, we have ”the lowest number of family physicians per capita in Canada, and third lowest number of specialists per capita.” A recent survey conducted by OurCare.Ca suggests that up to 300,000 Manitobans may be without a family doctor.

“It’s clear that more must be done to recruit and retain physicians in Manitoba, but to address this crisis the government must also look to expand and increase funding to established primary care models that do not rely on direct physician remuneration,” said Linner, pointing to the success of Community Health Centres (represented in Manitoba by the Manitoba Association of Community Health), which are not-for-profit organizations that use a team-based approach involving multiple disciplines to deliver primary care and specialist services.

“For the last seven years Manitoba’s health care system has been subject to deep cuts, leading to chaos for patients, families and health-care providers,” said Linner. “Urgent action is needed to stabilize primary care, especially for the most vulnerable populations in our province, both rural and urban.”