Many Alberta physicians have “reached a breaking point” and are looking to practice medicine outside of the province, according to a new survey by the Alberta Medical Association.
According to results released by the AMA Friday morning, 87 per cent of physicians surveyed said they will be making changes to their medical practices as a result of the funding framework put in place by Health Minister Tyler Shandro.
In addition, the survey found 42 per cent of Alberta doctors are considering looking for work in another province.
About 34 per cent of physicians who will be changing their practices said they may leave the profession or retire early, according to the survey.
“Physicians have reached a breaking point,” AMA president Dr. Christine Molnar said. “I’m deeply troubled by where this is going and what it’s going to mean for medical practices and patients in the coming months.
“There are a host of opportunities for physicians across the globe. Alberta’s doctors aren’t practicing here because they have to, they practice here because they want to. Up until very recently, Alberta was a great place to practice medicine. I know there is tremendous concern in the profession about how all of this is going to impact patients, and doctors are taking steps to try to preserve patient care as best they can. But the province’s approach is making it unsustainable for many of them.”
LISTEN BELOW: Dr. Christine Molnar joins the Ryan Jespersen Show
In a media release, the AMA said relations between the physicians and the province have deteriorated to “historic lows” over the last eight months.
The AMA said the troubles started when the government passed Bill 21. Then, in February, the government terminated its master agreement with physicians, which led to a lawsuit being filed by the AMA. The lawsuit argues doctors’ charter rights were violated by not having access to third-party arbitration.
The government announced Thursday it filed its defence to the lawsuit, which disputes accusations from the AMA that the government did not engage in good faith and have meaningful negotiations and consultations with the organization and its members.
In a statement Friday morning, the health minister said the province is moving forward with its funding framework and is committed to maintain physician funding at $5.4 billion this year.
“It’s questionable that doctors would leave for other provinces when statistics show they’d earn far less than in Alberta under our current funding arrangement,” Shandro said.
“The Alberta Medical Association (AMA) has never presented a credible proposal to meet our priority of maintaining spending at the current level, a fact that is confirmed in our statement of defence in response to the AMA’s lawsuit. They’ve never taken bargaining seriously. In years past, the AMA ‘promised’ savings, only to see actual billings come in billions of dollars higher than what they promised. This is not sustainable.
“The AMA needs to stop playing games, and start taking the economic crisis facing this province and this country seriously.”
Shandro said the government is exploring the introduction of physician compensation transparency, “as exists for public servants in Alberta and physicians in a number of other provinces.”
The NDP’s health critic issued a statement Friday, calling on the government to get back to the table, develop a new contract through binding arbitration and repeal the parts of Bill 21 that allow the government to tear up any future contract “on a whim.”
“I’m deeply troubled to see thousands of doctors are preparing to resign, retire, or move out of Alberta altogether, but I can’t say I’m shocked,” David Shepherd said.
“Premier Jason Kenney and Health Minister Tyler Shandro are at war with Alberta doctors: tearing up their contract, cutting their pay, and imposing hundreds of pages of new paperwork in the middle of a public health emergency.”
The AMA said it surveyed 1,470 of its members across the province between June 24 and July 3. The organization said the results are considered accurate within +/- 2.4 percentage points, meaning 19 times out of 20 the survey results are what they would be had the entire population of Alberta physicians participated.