A group of southern Alberta emergency physicians has submitted an open letter to Premier Jason Kenney and Health Minister Tyler Shandro, urging the province to reconsider incoming changes to the health-care system.
In February, the province ended its contract with doctors and revealed changes are coming to how physicians will be compensated, specifically when seeing patients who require longer visits.
The letter is from 36 doctors working in Lethbridge and Medicine Hat and identifies how they believe their emergency departments will be impacted, referencing concerns such as longer wait times, higher costs and reduced access to community physicians.
“When people can’t get into the primary care physicians, or they can’t access diagnostic tests or any component of the system they need to get, they end up presenting to the emergency department and then that kind of causes difficulties because we get more volume than we should have and it kind of delays care for a bunch of people,” said Dr. Paul Parks, an emergency physician working in Medicine Hat.
The letter also addresses what it calls “the elephant in the room” and how changes to the health system could impact a provincial response to COVID-19.
“If it impacts primary care delivery and regular delivery, it’s going to impact our elasticity to be able to deal with any kind of surges or any kind of things like a pandemic or disaster,” Parks said.
Global News reached out to the ministry of health for its response to the letter.
“We share the same goal as those physicians, improving care for Albertans while ensuring our health system is sustainable,” Tara Jago, issues manager for the minister of health, said in an email late Wednesday afternoon. “We are maintaining funding for physician services at $5.4 billion, the highest level ever and 25 per cent per capita higher than the national average.
“Even after the changes are fully implemented, Alberta doctors, including those in emergency departments, will still be among the highest-paid in Canada.
Jago added that “despite repeated efforts, the AMA failed to put forward alternatives that would hold the line on physician compensation.”
“Alberta remains an excellent place to live and practise medicine and one of the lowest taxed provinces in the country,” she said.
“We urge physicians who feel that fee for service payment will not be viable for them to consider an alternative model. There are alternatives available now and we will be expanding and improving them this summer.”
The letter submitted by the 36 physicians said it’s not too late to put a hold on provincial changes to the health system. It also urged the government to return to the negotiating table to find what they believe are actual savings in health care.
The full letter can be read below.