Doctors answer call in Saskatchewan, applying for emergency licences during pandemic

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan has issued at least 20 emergency licenses since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the province. File / Global News

Physicians have answered the call and returned to practice medicine in Saskatchewan since the novel coronavirus pandemic struck.

Back in March, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan made a declaration of an emergency to expedite licensing and ensure there were no barriers to those who come forward to assist the health-care system.

As of May 22, 20 emergency licences have been issued with two more on the way.

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan said this is the first time it has issued emergency licences under its bylaws.

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“[Our] current bylaws, which allow for an emergency declaration, were developed post-SARS to try to make sure that we had the flexibility to license people in a situation in which they would be significantly needed,” Bryan Salte, associate registrar and legal counsel for the body.
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“[The SARS crisis] didn’t affect Saskatchewan particularly, but certainly affected some other provinces. Many of the regulatory bodies looked around and said, ‘what are our contingency plans in the event that we have an emergency which dramatically impacts the health-care delivery system in Saskatchewan?’”

“If the SARS crisis had happened in Saskatchewan, our bylaws would have been really quite inflexible.”

Salte said the licences are for anywhere there is a need in the health-care system, but most have been family physicians.

“Some of these physicians have arranged to update their knowledge of COVID-19 to make sure that they’re aware of the latest information about it,” he said.

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“For example, a physician who wants to come out of retirement who was recently retired, in order to help with the current pandemic, we concluded it wasn’t going to be helpful to charge the normal licence fee when they might or might not have work to do.”

READ MORE: Saskatchewan Health Authority opening up COVID-19 testing criteria on May 25

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Saskatoon family doctor Ryan Meili said he stopped practising in the summer of 2018 in a switch to politics that led him to leading the Saskatchewan NDP.

“As soon as the pandemic was declared and we knew there was a chance of having some pretty significant increased needs in the health-care system… I signed up right away,” he said.

“I just wanted to be part of it with everybody else stepping up in so many ways. I want to be part of that response.”

Meili said he re-started in April and so far, it’s included time at the inner-city COVID assessment centre as well as the Lighthouse Supported Living shelter.

While practicing as a physician two days a week, Meili said it stirred up his love of medicine and old relationships.

“It’s been quite something to be back. I practised medicine in inner-city Saskatoon for many years. I’m getting to see some of my old patients and… working with the community that I love working with and to use some of that medical training again has been really, really exciting,” he said.

“One of the things that drove me into politics was the frustration of knowing you can help people out in the moment but you aren’t necessarily making a difference in the things that influence their health the most — whether they have decent employment, chances of good education, etc.

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“So I wanted to move upstream to help with some of the things that influence health more.”

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Meili said, like many people in Saskatchewan, doctors are stepping up during the pandemic.

“As people in this profession, there’s an expectation that you will step up and help when things are difficult, even if it’s really very hard or dangerous to do. And I think that call is taken really seriously by doctors,” Meili said.

“It was amazing to see the way that the medical community here in Saskatchewan really turned on a dime and got so ready so quickly once we realized this was coming.”

“Right now, we’re fortunate that the case numbers are low and I hope it continues to be that way, but I think anybody who’s in a position that they can do this and are interested, it’s a good thing for them to go through the process and be available if they are going to be needed.”

As of May 22, the provincial health ministry said Saskatchewan had 99 cases of COVID-19 considered active and five people in hospital.

Salte said there are about 2,600 doctors in Saskatchewan.

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Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

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