Alberta government urged to fix fractured health care, lack of family, female doctors

Click to play video: '78% drop in Alberta doctors taking new patients in past 3 years, no women physicians available in Edmonton'
78% drop in Alberta doctors taking new patients in past 3 years, no women physicians available in Edmonton
The lack of doctors in Alberta and across the country has been a point of discussion for some time, and now the Alberta Medical Association said there has been a 78-per cent drop in the number of family doctors accepting new patients since 2020 - and there are no female physicians taking on more patients in Edmonton. As Lisa MacGregor reports, it's a huge barrier for many accessing basic health care – Aug 22, 2023

An extreme shortage of family doctors and care physicians in Alberta has the Official Opposition and a provincial medical association asking for more from the provincial government when it comes to Albertans’ health-care needs.

The lack of doctors in Alberta and across the country has been a point of discussion for some time, however, people throughout the province are being impacted by the lack of medical resources available.

According to the Alberta Medical Association, there has been a 78-per cent drop in the number of doctors accepting new patients in the past three years. In 2020, 887 physicians across Alberta were accepting new patients compared to 197 in 2023.

Fredrykka Rinaldi, the president of the AMA, said other provinces have made steps towards fixing the doctor shortage across the country, but that’s not the case in Alberta.

“It should be really concerning for Albertans,” she said. “Alberta so far has done zip, nothing. Our competition advantage in terms of retaining or attracting physicians is in the waste bin right now.”

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Rinaldi said the shortage is in part because physicians are both leaving the province and choosing not to come here. Some physicians who have already set up shop in Alberta are also choosing to not take on any new patients.

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“Given how fractured the system is, there’s no point in taking on new patients when you already know your own patients are waiting six months beyond the recommended wait list,” she said.

As for the province, Rinaldi said she hopes the government is listening.

“I’m hopeful that they’re listening. I’m hopeful they’re embarrassed across the country. I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to move forward and it won’t be easy, but the point is to bring some supportive measures in the beginning without asking doctors to shift their entire paradigm.,” she said.

The Opposition NDP called on Premier Danielle Smith and her government to get their heads “out of the sand” and do something about the province’s health-care crisis.

It’s been more than 300 days since Smith promised to fix the province’s health-care system in 90 days, said Julia Hayter, the NDP’s status of women critic, at a news conference Tuesday. It’s been more than 175 days since the premier declared Alberta’s health crisis was over, Hayter added.

In a statement to Global News, Health Minister Adriana LaGrange said the Alberta government is making “it a priority to strengthen our primary care system by spending a historic $2 billion towards improving our primary health-care system in Budget 2023.

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“Right now, work is currently underway through Alberta’s Health Care Action Plan to increase access to a regular health provider throughout the province. This was a goal established in the minister’s mandate from the premier, and we will deliver on that commitment.”

Yet Albertans are spending years in some cases searching for a family doctor, especially a female doctor. There are only two OBGYNs in Lethbridge, the province’s fourth-largest city, and no female doctors accepting patients in Edmonton, Hayter said.

“It is absolutely appalling that in the second-largest city in Alberta, and in the capital of our province, we do not have a single female family doctor currently available to take new patients,” Hayter said.

“We need to remember that, for us, it’s sometimes a very intimate appointment … Sometimes you might be needing to talk to (a doctor) about past assaults, talking about traumas, you’re talking about childbirth. And in those intimate appointments, it’s that comfort level of being able to have a female physician to discuss openly the issues.”

Muna Ahmed echoed these sentiments, adding, that as a Muslim woman, there are also religious and cultural reasons why she would prefer to see a female doctor. She has been searching for over a year for another female physician after her family doctor retired.

“As a Muslim woman, I find it extremely difficult to discuss personal health matters with male physicians due to cultural and religious considerations. This has led me to postpone regular checkups and only seek medical attention in cases of emergency,” she said.

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Ahmed added that not being able to talk to a female doctor leaves her feeling “unheard and misunderstood in a place where I should feel safe and cared for.”

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