Complaints about British Columbia’s health-care system to the provincial ombudsperson have reached a 10-year high.
Jay Chalke’s annual report for 2021-22 released Tuesday says the office received almost 1,300 complaints or inquiries focused on programs and services provided by the Ministry of Health.
The figure is more than 15 per cent of all 8,215 complaints lodged with the office in that period.
“There is no question that the various measures governments have taken during the pandemic continue to leave some members of the public believing they have been treated unfairly,” Chalke says in his report.
“Members of the public complained to us about pandemic-related service changes across the public sector.”
Chalke says in a news release that complaints ranged from visitor restrictions for long-term care to surgery delays, and COVID-19 measures to quality of care.
The report says the Ministry of Health, the Insurance Corporation of B.C. and the Ministry of Children and Family Development were the top three most complained-about public bodies.
“When our phone lines open each morning, we hear the voices of people who are struggling, with confusion about how government works, with frustration about bureaucratic systems, and with the pandemic and how it has made access to government services in many cases harder,” Chalke says in the introduction to his report.
The investigations by the ombudsperson’s office helped solve numerous complaints, he says.
“We helped to address barriers facing doctors seeking to practise in the province, helped a woman get the heart medication she needed, and helped to expedite a critically needed surgery that had been repeatedly cancelled.”
One of those problems was that of a lottery winner whose $150,000 cheque was withheld because the B.C. Lottery Corp. tried to insist on signed waivers from friends who were with the woman when she bought the ticket, the report says.
The office took on the woman’s case, who is only identified as Kallie in the report, and asked if the corporation’s demand was authorized under the regulations for lotteries and gaming, the report says.
“After some discussion and reconsideration of the situation, (the corporation) agreed to settle the complaint by releasing the winnings without further action by Kallie.”
The report says the office is transitioning to outcome-based performance measures and hired a polling company to ask a sample of B.C. residents what they know about the ombudsperson’s office.
It found there was a low level of recognition.
“We will be working hard to improve awareness when people don’t know they can come to our office, fairness concerns may go unaddressed. The results of this survey suggest that there is a significant unmet need for the services our office provides,” the report says.