NDP calls for ‘urgent funding’ to address provincial family doctor shortage

Currently no family physicians in Saskatoon are accepting new patients.

At a press conference Wednesday morning, NDP Leader Carla Beck said the situation along with the entire health care system in Saskatchewan is in crisis and needs to be treated as such.

“It is extraordinary, though, that in Saskatoon, you know, our largest city in the province, there’s not a single family physician accepting new patients.”

NDP health critic Vicki Mowat says the government is sitting on $2 billion windfall revenues.

Read more: Staff shortages plaguing Saskatchewan’s health care system

“Not a drop of this has been invested into our health care system,” said Mowat. “When we see that they (provincial government) have announced a health care plan about attracting health care workers, we would like to see some real investment that supports that.”

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“We saw over $118 million (invested) in B.C., they’re about five times the size, so we wouldn’t be asking for the same amount. We would suspect it would be in the neighbourhood of 20 to 30 million.” said Mowat.

Beck says in the last three years, Saskatchewan has lost 82 family doctors. She says several other provinces have announced funding to supply and improve access to family physicians.

Mowat says they’re the backbone of Saskatchewan’s health care system.

“When people don’t have a family doctor, they end up in our hospitals and emergency rooms,” said Mowat.

“We have a health minister who claims our system is fine while our ERs and hospitals are bursting at the seams, health-care workers are burning out and people across the province can’t find access to a doctor. This government needs to step up with a plan before it’s too late.”

Read more: Legends Medical Clinic closes to walk-in patients due to doctor shortage

In a statement to Global News, the Government of Saskatchewan the overall physical supply is increasing, but they recognize the challenges faced by patients and communities like Saskatoon.

“This is why on Sept. 7, 2022, the Government of Saskatchewan announced a four-point Action Plan to accelerate efforts to retain and attract more than 1,000 healthcare professionals into the health system,” the government said in the statement.

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“A new, independent Saskatchewan Healthcare Recruitment Agency (SHRA) has been formally established and recruitment for a CEO is underway. The scope of the SHRA includes the coordination of provincial level recruitment and retention efforts of physicians, nurses and other health professionals.”

Burnout rates in the industry are alarming, according to Mowat. The health critic says the biggest concern she’s heard from people within the industry is attracting and keeping doctors within Saskatchewan.

“You can’t keep attracting people and then not providing good working conditions that people want to be a part of. I think every sector can relate to the fact that there has to be an equal amount of attention to recruiting and retention at the same time.”

The government however, said the ongoing recruitment efforts are delivering promising results.

“Over the past year, 107 doctors have been recruited to Saskatchewan from outside the province, including 51 family physicians. Compared to 2021, the province has seen a net increase of 78 licensed physicians year over year.”

Beck says the new urgent care facilities planned in Regina and Saskatoon are great, but don’t solve the entire issue.

“That capital investment is important,” says Beck, “but it doesn’t work if we don’t have staff to staff those buildings, and that is a concern that we hear consistently: ‘who’s going to staff them?’”

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