Alberta doctors and nurses react to Budget 2015’s deep health cuts

CALGARY – Alberta’s plan to slash health spending for the first time in two decades is being met with mixed reaction from those on the front lines.  The 2015/2016 budget calls for a  0.8 per cent reduction to the province’s $18.9-billion health bill, including a $325-million cut to the Alberta Health Services funding.

“The reality is we’ve been adding more money for years and years and we still seem to talk about the same problems,” said Alberta Medical Association president Dr. Richard Johnston.  “We have to look at ways to do things differently.”

Physician compensation will not be impacted by this year’s budget: The AMA signed a deal with the province in 2013, but Johnston says doctors still struggle with accessing resources from AHS, such as operating room time.

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Alberta Health Services has promised the cuts will not impact patient services. AHS says the number of surgeries will not be reduced and no hospital beds will be closed, but 1,695 full-time equivalent positions will be eliminated through attrition.

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“The suggestion that nearly 1,700 full time equivalents can be pulled out of the system without effect is ridiculous,” said United Nurses of Alberta president Heather Smith. “We already have huge issues across the province with overcapacity. There’s nothing in this budget that’s going to make it better.  In fact, what’s in this budget is going to make it worse.”

Primary care budgets have also been cut. Three-and-a-half million Albertans now belong to primary care networks (PCNs) across the province, but this year PCNs will have to make due with $75 million less.

“We are quite concerned that any cutback in primary care networks will affect the team-based care we provide to our patients,” said provincial PCN executive co-chair Dr. Philip van der Merwe.

Van der Merwe said cutting primary care is shortsighted and may end up putting more pressure on emergency departments if patients have less access to family physicians.