12/20/2011 07:45 EST | Updated 02/19/2012 05:12 EST

NDP says holiday ER closures in B.C. interior will leave patients at risk

VANCOUVER - NDP health critic Mike Farnworth says holiday closures of two emergency rooms in B.C.'s southern interior could put thousands of people at risk.

He says doctor shortages will force the closure of the Chase emergency department on Dec. 23 and the Logan Lake department on Boxing Day.

Both ER's are due to return to full service on Jan. 3rd, but Farnworth said the disruptions in care will endanger residents and travellers alike.

He said rural residents in need of medical care will face long drives over potentially icy roads during the more than week-long closures.

“Anyone who has ever driven on these highways knows that adding kilometres to an emergency call will put patients at risk,” Farnworth said in a news release.

He accused the Liberal government of creating the problem because it lacks a commitment to rural health care in B.C.

“We need to be addressing the number of physicians that we have serving rural B.C. and working with health professionals to look at ways in which we can recruit and keep them in these communities,” he said.

The ER closures come at the same time the Interior Health Authority is closing five sexual health clinics in the southern interior.

The clinics in Kamloops, Kelowna, Penticton, Cranbrook and Grand Forks test for sexually transmitted infections, but the health authority says only about 10 per cent of people who get such tests use the facilities and alternate private clinics can do the job.

Nurses Union President Debra MacPherson says closing the clinics violates the health ministry's own policy on reproductive health.

"The elimination of these services also goes against virtually every recommendation in the IHA's own 2007 sexual health services review," she said.