Alberta doctors ask for health-care changes to be halted amid COVID-19 in open letter to Kenney government

Click to play video: 'Alberta doctors tell province not to change health system during a pandemic'
Alberta doctors tell province not to change health system during a pandemic
Hundreds of doctors have signed an open letter to the health minister and the premier asking them to scrap changes to how they're paid. As Fletcher Kent explains, they say now is not the time for such big changes to the health system. – Mar 30, 2020

Hundreds of doctors across Alberta have signed an open letter urging the provincial government to halt health-care changes coming April 1, so that those on the frontline battling the new coronavirus can focus on the pandemic and their patients.

The letter, released at 9 a.m. on Monday, is addressed to Minister of Health Tyler Shandro and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney.

It says the proposed changes are detrimental to patients and the healthcare system, and that now — as the province battles a pandemic — is “not the time to restructure the system.”

“We understand and intrinsically know how to operate,” the letter states. “COVID-19 is spreading like a wildfire in this province. We are a strong and trusted team who require necessary resources to help us put out this fire.

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“We oppose this government’s implementation of harmful actions targeted towards our public healthcare system. These actions will destabilize an already stressed healthcare system during this uncertain time.”

The letter goes on to state that Alberta doctors “cannot afford any distractions” during a time when they are counted on to perform to the best of our capabilities.

“Albertans are overwhelmed by the physical, emotional and financial issues surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. All Albertans are dealing with profound changes that are beyond their control.”

The letter calls for an “abrupt pause” to the proposed healthcare changes to avoid “burdening and negatively impacting” Albertans.

“Now is not the time to implement changes that will negatively impact the province’s ability to deliver accessible care under our already existing and exceptional health-care system.”

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The letter notes that these are unprecedented times that require “extraordinary support and flexibility for clinical care.”

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“Physicians and medical support staff are performing beyond their means and are doing so with fewer resources,” the letter states. “More than 400 community clinics across this province are either closing or laying off staff. This will overburden and overwhelm community and inpatient physicians to provide services that put patients first.

“Virtual options for providing care must be made more readily available and require compensation equivalent to an in-office visit, thereby allowing for crucial time needed to reassure and address our patients’ mounting critical needs. We must have the necessary resources for these clinics caring for Albertans.”

The letter finishes by saying that once the essential health issues of Albertans during the COVID-19 pandemic are addressed, the signees are committed to “ensuring the stability and financial feasibility” the health-care system.

“Until then, our immediate need from the Government for stability, support and resources is vital if we are to put out these wildfires for Albertans.”

The letter is signed “some of the concerned physicians of Alberta,” and includes 845 signatures.

In an emailed statement, the health minister said the UCP government “will provide whatever resources are needed to protect Albertans in the pandemic.

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“We expect spending on physician services and health care overall to increase significantly this year. I continue to work with the AMA, the negotiating body formally representing physicians. In fact, I spoke to Dr. Molnar at length just a few days ago. My door is open to any concrete, specific proposal to support physicians and patients in the emergency and going forward,” read the statement from Tyler Shandro.

A spokesperson for the ministry of health also added that some of the announcements recently made by the government address some of the doctors’ concerns.

“We agree with the physicians: we need to make ‘virtual visits’ available to all physicians and patients, and pay for them at the same rate we pay for an office visit,” Steve Buick said in a statement. “We announced exactly that on March 23.

“We’ll pay physicians for unlimited phone or video consults at the same rate as an office visit ($38 per). We made this change to help physicians minimize risk to patients and to themselves, and keep their practices economically viable as much as possible.”

Buick also pointed out that on March 17, the government cancelled proposed changes to complex modifiers.

“We recognize that Alberta doctors’ offices have seen a reduction in foot traffic in recent weeks. This is not unique to them, many other industries have seen the same phenomenon as Albertans are told to stay home (ex. retail, hospitality, etc). We also suggest doctors offices to look at recent wage subsidy supports that the federal government announced for small and medium sized businesses,” Buick said.

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BELOW: Read an open letter to the Alberta government from Alberta doctors, released on Monday, March 30

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