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NDP Leader Carla Beck says Saskatchewan should focus on health-care worker retention

Carla Beck said that the Sask. Party's new plan was a decision made with no real consultation with health-care workers, and that workers feel disrespected. Derek Putz / Global News

NDP Official Opposition Leader Carla Beck is criticizing the Sask. Party’s recent plan to hire more health-care professionals.

The province is looking to bring in physician assistants to help carry the weight of the health sector, but Beck said they’re missing the big issue.

Read more: No firm date on introducing physician assistants in Saskatchewan while doctors are overrun

“I was shocked to see Scott Moe release a plan that doesn’t address the biggest issue facing our health-care system today, retention of workers,” Beck said.

She added that this was a decision made with no real consultation with health-care workers, and that workers feel disrespected.

“We are losing health-care workers by the dozens to places like Ontario, Alberta, and British Columbia, and frankly, it’s no wonder.”

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The Saskatchewan Government is hoping to bring in 1,000 health-care professionals over the next two to three years, and according to the Canadian Association of Physician Assistants, they could manage 75 per cent of visits directed toward doctors.

Jenna-Lee Hostin is a nurse practitioner from Assiniboia, and said this plan fails to recognize the value of health-care workers already in Saskatchewan.

“We need to stop talking about recruitment, and start talking about what needs to be done to retain our health-care workers who live and work right here in Saskatchewan,” Hostin said.

She noted that she’s seen issues due to a lack of retention.

Read more: Could physician assistants help with Canada’s health-care staffing crisis?

“Throughout the summer we’ve seen both closures in acute care as well as the emergency rooms largely due to the lack of nurses being retained in these communities.”

Hostin said nurse practitioners were under-utilized in Saskatchewan, and warned about the province’s plan to use physician assistants.

“Currently there is no training program for physician assistants in Saskatchewan, and there is no way to regulate these providers.”

She added that new nurses coming into the field are already getting worn out.

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“Our brand new grad nurses, who are brand new health-care workers, they’re telling us already ‘we’re burning out’ because these senior, experienced nurses, they’re not there anymore to provide that support.

Read more: Saskatchewanians waited longer for surgery than any other Canadians in 2021, report finds

“While physician assistants are not currently regulated in Saskatchewan, they can be employed as an unregulated health care provider,” the government of Saskatchewan said in a statement on Wednesday.

“The Ministry is not aware of the number currently working in the province, however, a 2020 Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) report revealed that a single physician assistant was working in Saskatchewan.”

The government said that as part of its Health Human Resources Action Plan, the Ministry of Health has been researching success stories in other jurisdictions that could potentially assist with expanding health-care capacity in Saskatchewan, including expanding the number of physician assistants.

“The Canadian Association of Physician Assistants (CAPA) has formally requested the Government of Saskatchewan regulate physician assistants under the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan. We anticipate further discussions about this with sector partners and governing bodies in the weeks to come.”

— with Files From Andrew Benson and Teagan Rasche

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