A new poll from the Hospital Employees’ Union is painting a dire picture of the current state of British Columbia’s health-care system.
The survey found that a significant number of health-care workers are struggling with their mental health and may quit their jobs as a result.
Two years into the pandemic, the survey found that one in three workers (34.4 per cent) are likely to leave health care in the next two years.
“There’s no question that many health-care workers are at the breaking point, exhausted by all they’ve been through,” said Meena Brisard, secretary-business manager for the Hospital Employees’ Union, in a news release.
Three-quarters of those surveyed said they have experienced pandemic-related burnout and one-third do not believe there are adequate mental health supports in the workplace.
“And we should all be very concerned about what that means for our health care system going forward,” said Brisard.
Most respondents said their workloads have gotten worse over the last two years and many reported that their employer rarely or never backfills positions left vacant by illness or vacation.
Another major concern is BC’s skyrocketing cost of living.
More than one in four (26.1 per cent) workers reported that they are worried that their housing is at risk
“Health-care workers have carried the weight of this pandemic on their shoulders for all of us. Now is the time to recognize these workers with a wage and compensation package that puts them ahead and not behind,” said Brisard.
The HEU is currently in the midst of negotiations on behalf of a multi-union bargaining association with public health employers for a new collective agreement covering 58,000 workers in the facilities subsector.
The random phone survey of 802 HEU members took place between Feb. 22 and March 2 and is accurate to within plus or minus 3.3 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
It was carried out by Viewpoints Research under commission by the HEU.
The local findings come as doctors across the country report similar levels of exhaustion.
The Canadian Medical Association’s National Physician Health Survey, which was conducted in November 2021 and received more than 4,000 responses, shows that 53 per cent of physicians and medical students have experienced high levels of burnout, compared to 30 per cent in a study four years prior .
“We know health-care workers and physicians have just been on the frontlines of this pandemic endlessly, it feels like and this is on the background of a system that was already struggling even before the pandemic. And the result of course now is extreme levels of burnout,” said Dr. Katharine Smart, president of the Canadian Medical association.
The survey also found that 46 per cent of doctors are considering reducing their clinical work in the next two years.
“As physicians our job and our desire is to be able to meet the needs of our patients and our system now is so broken that that’s becoming very challenging for people,” said Smart.
A ‘HOUSE OF CARDS’
Many health-care workers say BC’s medical system was already hanging by a thread prior to the pandemic.
Now, the fear is years worth of burnout is going to cause a mass exodus in health care.
“Without a very strong primary care physician network, then the system on which medical care is built to the hospital system, specialist system, that can all collapse like a house of cards,” said Dr. Anna Wolak, Vancouver family physician.
Wolak says even physicians themselves are having trouble finding a family doctor.
“It’s really quite telling. It’s like the canary in the coal mine so to speak as to what is coming,” said Wolak.
She says her biggest worry with burnout is that doctors may inadvertently miss something when diagnosing a patient.
Wolak says administrative tasks and running the business end of a practice is a large portion of doctor’s workload.
“We also have bills to pay, rent to pay and whatever we are paid from the ministry, at least 30 to 40 per cent of that goes to running the office,” she explained.
Work-life balance is particularly challenging as tasks like checking labs and making referrals still need to be done when a patient leaves their appointment.
“It’s really hard for physicians to kind of catch a break and so to recover and recharge,” she explained.
“It’s a never ending hamster wheel of just stress and it’s draining.”
Wolak says she would like to see a complete overhaul of the fee for service system.
“The pay of family physicians is the lowest in the country, and is still at the rates that it was in, say the 80s or 90s. So it’s not keeping up with inflation. It’s not keeping up with cost of living,” said Wolak.
CTV News has reached out to the Ministry of Health for comment.