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Alberta cutting contract with radiologists, group representing doctors calls move ‘cruel and petty’

In this Thursday, May 6, 2010 file photo, a radiologist uses a magnifying glass to check mammograms.
In this Thursday, May 6, 2010 file photo, a radiologist uses a magnifying glass to check mammograms. AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File

Alberta Health Services is terminating a contract that affects many radiologists at Calgary and Edmonton hospitals next year and the head of a group representing those who will be impacted says “the timing really couldn’t be worse.”

“This really couldn’t have been announced at a worse time and it just comes across as cruel and petty,” Dr. Robert Davies, president of the Alberta Society of Radiologists, told Global News on Monday night. “In the short-term, radiologists, like other physicians in the province, are focused on getting prepared for the COVID-19 epidemic.

“The timing of this announcement is as awful as it is unnecessary and I’m really worried about the impact on the morale and the mental health of front-line providers… it just comes across as cruel and petty.”

READ MORE: Edmonton doctors group raises concern about Alberta’s coronavirus preparedness

In an email sent earlier in the day, health ministry press secretary Steve Buick confirmed to Global News that the government has told the radiologists it will terminate the contract in a year and said the goal is to find cost savings and use those to reduce wait times for MRI and CT scans for Albertans.

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“The minister (Tyler Shandro) has been closely following the growing issue of long waits for MRI and CT scans in recent months,” Buick’s email reads. “In February, when he heard reports that cancer diagnosis and care of some patients in Edmonton was being impacted, he ordered AHS to take urgent action.

“The minister followed up with a formal directive to AHS to reduce wait times for CT and MRI scans to clinically appropriate times. ”

Buick said AHS pays radiologists “far higher rates” than their counterparts receive in B.C. and Ontario.

Davies said he does not believe the fees agreed to in the contract, which he said was only signed off on in November, are the problem.

READ MORE: Edmonton doctors say long wait times for MRI and CT scans are getting worse

Watch below: (From Feb. 20, 2020) In this edition of Health Matters, Su-Ling Goh tells us about how Edmonton doctors are once again raising concerns about long wait times for MRIs and CT scans and also tells us about a made-in-Edmonton invention to treat heart attacks.

Health Matters: Feb. 20
Health Matters: Feb. 20

“The issue with waitlists for CT scans for cancer and other important issues has nothing to do with radiologist fees or needing to save a little bit of money here or there,” he said. “The fact is we massively underfund CT scans, and to a lesser degree, MRIs, compared to the national average.”

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Davies said when the government moves to a request for proposal process next year, he worries that “looking at out-of-province or out-of-country providers” will mean the “value of the doctors providing care actually in the hospital and knowing the system is going to be lost.”

“It threatens the on-site close working relationship of radiologists with their other specialist colleagues in the hospital — it’s a real threat to quality of care in the province next year.”

READ MORE: Some Edmonton-area patients are waiting 7-9 months for CT scans

For now, Davies said radiologists are not going to focus on what AHS’ new request for proposal may look like next year, but will instead focus on helping Alberta cope with the COVID-19 epidemic.

“Radiologists are going to be key in the diagnosis and treatment of patients — the sickest patients — with COVID-19 in the hospital,” he said. “And that will continue to be our focus throughout the pandemic.”

READ MORE: NDP urges Alberta government not to lay off nurses amid coronavirus pandemic, UCP says resources will remain

Watch below: Some Global News videos about Alberta’s health-care system.

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