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Letter: Tough doctor discussions and hard decisions: health minister

Response to Sundre physician situation

I want to assure folks in Sundre and area: there will be no cuts to the Sundre hospital.

I directed Alberta Health Services (AHS) to ensure no gaps in coverage and I want to be clear that the hospital will continue to have full emergency and inpatient coverage.

AHS has told me many local doctors have opted to maintain their ability to practise at the hospital. I have also been told that a number of those doctors who voluntarily gave up their privileges have decided to provide locum coverage – which means they can still practise in the hospital if needed, but will be paid differently.

I know the last several months of public debate, rumours and news stories have been difficult and at times trying for the residents of Sundre. Our government was elected last year with a mandate to get Alberta’s finances in order. That has lead to tough discussions and hard decisions, including how and what we pay doctors.

It’s not unreasonable for the government to want to manage the budget for doctors, which is 10 per cent of Alberta’s entire budget. Our goal through this process has been simply to hold spending to current levels. Doctors in Alberta are currently paid more than at anytime in the province’s history and more than any other doctors in Canada.  

They will continue to be the highest paid doctors per capita in Canada under our plan.

That being said, we heard loud and clear from your MLA, Jason Nixon, who has been a passionate and proud representative of his constituents, that rural Alberta needed to be treated differently. Based on his advice and that of other rural UCP MLAs – we made changes to our plans.

In April, we announced a package of changes to our plan that would treat rural Alberta communities as separate and distinct and we invested millions of dollars over and above current levels. We now have the best incentive programs for rural doctors in the entire country. Doctors in Sundre are eligible for an additional 11.9 per cent top-up to their billings.

These changes are meant to keep doctors in rural Alberta so folks like you have continued access to the care they need and deserve.

That’s just the start. We’re also freezing liability insurance costs for all rural doctors and family doctors across Alberta, increasing on-call payments, providing incentives for young Albertans from rural communities to return to their home communities to practise medicine, and permanently exempting rural doctors from overhead policy changes.

We also remain open to further changes to address problems identified by communities, doctors, MLAs, and the Alberta Medical Association. The lines of communication between government and doctors have always been - and remain – open.

Tyler Shandro,

Minister of Health