EDMONTON — Alberta is considering paying some doctors more than $500 an hour to treat swine flu patients if there is a serious pandemic.
The pay rate is part of a proposal being worked on by the province and the Alberta Medical Association.
It would apply to doctors who volunteered to work as part of a government flu response plan that would kick in if the health system were significantly disrupted by H1N1 or if a state of public health emergency were declared.
Doctors who agreed to work night shifts under the Physician Financial Support Program would be paid $518.45 an hour, according to a letter the association has sent out to doctors.
The rate for evenings would be $403.24 an hour and the weekday rate would be $259.23 an hour.
Dr. Noel Grisdale, president of the medical association, said it’s prudent to have a contingency plan because doctors could end up contracting the flu on the job.
Grisdale said in an extreme case it’s possible that 25 per cent of doctors could become ill and be unable to work.
If that were to happen, it would be important to have others step in at hospitals, including doctors from community practices.
“In a pandemic, health-care workers are on the frontline exposed to the virus and to the sickest people. In an emergency-type situation you need as many of those people (doctors) working,” Grisdale said in an interview.
“There is a component of incentives to continue to work and be there at the toughest times.”
The pay rates would be a significant raise for community doctors, but less so for surgeons and other specialists, he said. Details as to exactly how the program would work and apply to different medical specialities are still being worked out.
Doctors working as part of a flu response could choose to be paid by the hour or by fee for service. They would also be guaranteed a minimum payment during the pandemic.
Alberta Health is also working with the medical association to make sure that doctors would be paid if they became sick while treating flu patients.
The organization that represents 32,000 registered nurses in Alberta says it also wants to be included in the government’s pandemic planning, but hasn’t been consulted yet.
Mary-Anne Robinson, executive director of the College and Association of Registered Nurses of Alberta, said the province is already short about 1,500 RNs, yet they would deliver much of the acute care during a serious flu pandemic.
“Alberta Health Services has not been actively recruiting nurses. Largely there has been a freeze on hiring,” Robinson said. “We do wonder what kind of situation that is going to place us in if large numbers of nurses are ill or affected by the pandemic themselves and are unable to work.”
The United Nurses of Alberta, the union that represents most registered nurses, hasn’t been contacted by the government either, a union official said.
Alberta Health spokesman John Tuckwell declined to comment on the plan for doctors or other pandemic health-care staffing.
Tuckwell said the government continues to develop its pandemic contingency plan, but he declined to release any details or cost estimates.