Saskatchewan health minister barraged by health-care questions at SMA event

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Sask. health minister barraged by health-care questions at SMA event
WATCH: The provincial government has announced new funding for family doctors to help stabilize an expensive work environment. Gates Guarin has more on how the funds will be allocated and the response from the province's medical professionals. – Nov 3, 2023

The Saskatchewan Medical Association is holding its Fall Representative Assembly in Saskatoon Friday and Saturday at the Sheraton Hotel, with many delegates pressing the Ministry of Health on several issues.

SMA president Dr. Annette Epp said she heard a lot of questions around negotiations, saying it’s top of mind for physicians in the province, adding many are in distress these days.

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Epp said more information will be available around the negotiations with the Ministry of Health around a new compensation agreement in a private session Saturday.

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She said there’s an urgency to address these compensation issues.

“We need a better tomorrow for health care in this province,” Epp said.

Epp said family medicine is the foundation of the health-care system and a more innovative compensation model is needed for family physicians to reflect the complex work they do.

She said the Ministry of Health has an opportunity in front of them.

“They have an opportunity to show that they’ve heard and they support Saskatchewan physicians and in turn they are supporting the citizens in this province.”

Minister of Health Everett Hindley said he knows things haven’t been easy on health-care workers.

“We know it hasn’t been easy, that’s been abundantly clear to us, and thank you so much for continuing to persevere as we work together to make Saskatchewan’s health-care system the best system that it possibly can be,” Hindley said.

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He said he’s heard concerns and they are working to address them.

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One-time stabilization funding was announced at the event, with $20 million going to community-based fee-for-service family physicians in the province.

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This was described as funding to help physicians build their capacity and transition to a new payment model based on blended capitation.

Blended capitation offers two streams of remuneration to family physicians:

  • A base payment for a standard basket of services, and
  • Additional fee-for-service payments for extra services provided outside of the defined basket of services.

Physicians who are licensed to give services on a fee-for-service basis in the province apply to receive up to $40,000 per physician.

The province said physicians applying for this funding will be asked to declare their intent to stay working in Saskatchewan until a new physician agreement is ratified.

Other provinces like B.C and Nova Scotia have already moved to a blended capitation model, but Hindley said they are looking at those systems and coming up with their own that could potentially be better.

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The minister fielded a range of questions, here are some of the highlights.

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Moose Jaw family physician Dr. Karissa Brabant asked for more details around the stabilization fund and how it will transition to a blended capitation model.

Hindley says there’s still more work to be done on how to roll it out, but he said they understand that moving to a blended capitation model is critical in Saskatchewan.

Dr. Nnamdi Ndubuka is the physician lead for the SMA’s equity, diversity and inclusion committee and wondered why nothing was touched on regarding physicians facing discrimination in the workplace, adding that they’ve been hearing increasing concerns on the topic.

Hindley said there’s no room for racism in the province. He added that steps will be taken to prevent these kinds of issues, and any issues that do pop up will be fully investigated.

Dr. Kirsten Jewitt is a Saskatoon family physician and said she has patients who work for SHA in a number of categories, saying they are coming to her to go on stress leave.

“I’ve heard stories that their running out of food to feed the patients, there’s just not enough food even ordered,” Jewitt said.

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She said these patients are from all different departments but they are all saying “they love their job, but…”, listing issues like managers changing, not knowing what they are doing, and nurses who have been there long-term working with travelling nurses who are making way more money than them.

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Hindley said they’ve been hearing similar messages, noting they are working as quickly as they can to address these issues.

He said he understands the situation with travel nurses, adding that is not a permanent solution.

Dr. Jeffrey Wilkinson from Moose Jaw said the Sask. Party government pays dramatically lower rates for common cardiac procedures compared to other provinces, giving an example of an echocardiogram (an ultrasound to examine the heart) being paid out at $187, whereas Alberta pays out on average $240.

“This makes maintaining and retaining my staff very challenging. It makes it impossible to recruit other cardiologists to my clinic and as a result, about a month ago my clinic left the public medicare program. I charge patients directly for their health care because of a crisis,” Wilkinson said.

He wondered if the minister would commit to paying competitive rates for care.

Hindley said he heard about Wilkinson’s situation and the discrepancy. He said rates are competitive amongst provinces and that this will likely be something taken into consideration between the Ministry and the SMA.

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