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Alberta to streamline approvals for new private clinics to boost surgeries

Alberta to streamline approvals for new private clinics to boost surgeries
The UCP government says to meet its goals to reduce surgical wait times, it will speed up the process to get a private surgical clinic approved in Alberta. As provincial affairs reporter Tom Vernon explains, the move is just one of several changes introduced by the health minister on Monday.

The Alberta government is proposing legislation that would accelerate approvals of private clinics in order to get more surgeries done.

A bill introduced Monday also says the province should have more latitude to pay doctors in other ways, such as salaries, rather than just the current fee-for-service model.

“Our proposed changes will provide more voice and choice to Albertans and physicians,” Health Minister Tyler Shandro said prior to introducing the bill in the house.

“They will strengthen the roles, responsibilities and accountability of our health partners, and this modernization sets us on the path to meet our commitment to build a sustainable, accessible public health system.”

The proposed legislation gives legal teeth to commitments previously announced by Shandro, including a promise made late last year to have more private clinics carry out surgeries to reduce backlogs and long wait lists.

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Alberta resumes scheduled inpatient surgeries
Alberta resumes scheduled inpatient surgeries

There are 43 such private clinics — most of them in Edmonton and Calgary — performing 15 per cent of surgeries, mainly knee and hip replacements, and cataract removals. The bill is paid by the provincial government under medicare.

Many of those surgeries are recommended to be done within four months, but too many are taking longer, Shandro has said.

The United Conservative government aims to have 80,000 more surgeries done over the next three years. Some 300,000 surgeries are performed in Alberta each year.

The legislation would reduce what Shandro calls needless administrative duplication to get the private clinics approved.

When the clinics were created two decades ago, he said, the government was dealing with 17 different health authorities, which meant another level of oversight was needed to co-ordinate them.

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Since then, noted Shandro, the authorities have been collapsed into one, Alberta Health Services, so “a lot of the vestigial requirements aren’t needed.”

Read more: Alberta government commits $100M to upgrade hospital operating rooms, reduce surgery waits

Opposition NDP health critic David Shepherd said direct publicly funded is the best value for money and that Shandro’s plan will erode it.

“Bill 30 is another step in (Premier) Jason Kenney’s rush to bring (a) failed American-style model of increased private profit into our public health-care system,” said Shepherd.

‘This is not patient-centred or person-centred care. This is profit-centred care.”

Shandro has also promised to explore different ways to pay doctors in keeping with a commitment to keep funding for physician compensation around the current $5.4-billion level. That represents one-quarter of all health operational spending.

The bill would give the government authority to use contracts instead of ministerial orders for alternative pay agreements, which could include salaries rather than fees for service.

The bill also calls for the number of public members on health professional college committees to increase to 50 per cent from 25 per cent.

The 50-50 split would apply to college councils, tribunals and complaints committees.

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Read more: Can Alberta businesses ask for proof of a negative COVID-19 test?

The Health Quality Council of Alberta, which monitors the health system and makes recommendations for improvements, would be expanded beyond its mandate of patient safety to include broader health service quality.

The proposed changes for physicians are set against a backdrop of acrimonious relations between Shandro and the doctors’ representative, the Alberta Medical Association.

UCP to lean on private clinics to help cut surgery wait times in Alberta
UCP to lean on private clinics to help cut surgery wait times in Alberta

The two sides locked horns after Shandro cancelled a master agreement with doctors earlier this year and unilaterally imposed changes to fees and billing.

The association, alleging breaches of charter rights because it was not given the option of third-party arbitration, is taking the province to court.

Read more: Coronavirus: AHS builds temporary Calgary health-care facility

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The province said the highlights of Bill 30, the Health Statutes Amendment Act, include:

  • Supporting and strengthening the work of the Health Quality Council of Alberta so it can drive health system improvements and positive change for patients and families
  • Increasing the number of public members on Health Professional Regulatory College councils to ensure Albertans have a stronger voice and greater role in professional oversight
  • Streamlining the approval process for chartered surgical facilities to operate so they can provide more high-quality, publicly funded surgeries to help reduce surgical wait times without compromising patient safety or quality of care
  • Making it easier for physicians to enter into alternative relationship plans for compensation
  • Enabling government to contract with a range of organizations to operate medical clinics so physicians can focus on providing patient care, rather than administration
  • Clarifying the role of Alberta Health Services as the province’s single health authority, with Covenant Health as a strategic partner and the largest faith-based health-care provider
  • Ensuring the Hospital Privileges Appeals Board continues to have a strong, qualified group of members to review grievances brought forward by medical staff against hospital boards
  • Clarifying COVID-19 quarantine requirements under the Public Health Act to clearly articulate that all international travellers must quarantine for 14 days while the related chief medical officer of health orders are in effect

The province said Bill 30 would repeal some legislation that no longer applies, since the bills were written when Alberta had multiple health regions.

Read more: More than 1,000 non-urgent surgeries completed since COVID-19 restrictions were eased: AHS

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— With files from Karen Bartko, Global News