Alberta doctors may soon have to take turns quitting.
The proposed new standard of practice is one of several changes put forward by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta.
They follow concerns that some doctors were leaving or could soon leave their practices in rural Alberta over an ongoing contract dispute with the province.
The college, which is the regulatory body for doctors, is proposing that physicians would no longer be able to resign from their practice all at once. They would need to stagger resignations to allow reasonable time for replacements to be found.
Another proposed standard change would require departing physicians to make a reasonable effort to find their patients a new doctor before they could close their practice.
Earlier this year, some doctors did leave Alberta, citing anger over the on-going fight with the provincial government. Other doctors said they were considering withdrawing their services from rural hospitals to focus on their family practice.
One survey conducted by the Alberta Medical Association suggested 42 per cent of its members were considering leaving Alberta.
In June, Health Minister Tyler Shandro wrote to the College of Physicians and Surgeons, instructing it to change its Standards of Practice to prevent such resignations which he described as “job action.”
The college has posted the proposed changes and is inviting feedback.
“So far, the response has been strong, with more feedback than we typically receive,” wrote Jessica McPhee, a spokesperson for the College of Physicians and Surgeons.
Much of that public feedback is critical of the proposed changes.
“I am deeply concerned about the ethical and legal implications of these changes,” wrote Dr. Alan Brilz on the college’s website.
“I recommend that our organization stand up against the minister’s direction and seek legal consultation to determine if this proposed change would stand up to legal challenge.”
Dr. Ian Walker wrote: “No one wants to work in a position where they run the risk of indentured servitude.”
The Alberta Medical Association says it will be submitting a response to the college.
“Our concern with the proposed changes as written are they seem to go a little bit too far,” the organization’s president, Dr. Paul Boucher, said.
Boucher said the college must balance the needs of physicians with the needs of patients.
“You have to make a distinction between job action and physicians who feel forced to make changes in their practice for their own well-being, for their financial viability of their practice.”
Boucher worries such measures could hamper recruitment to the very places the rules are intended to help.
“When you start to put disincentives, which is really what this could be perceived as, it could make potentially recruitment into some of those areas more difficult.”
The College of Physicians and Surgeons is now listening to feedback on the proposed Standards of Practice. It’s expected to vote on the changes this December. If they pass, they’ll take effect in the new year.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the health minister rejects some of the critiques of the new proposed standards and says they appear to meet the intent of the minister’s request.
“The proposed changes would not ‘force’ any physician to work anywhere or take away their right to close their practice – which is clear in the college’s proposed policies,” spokesperson Steve Buick said.
“The college’s proposed rules are not unique in Canada.
“For example, the BC College expressly prohibits physicians from withdrawing services as a group.”