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Alberta government makes deal with doctors

Alberta government adds $750 million to health-care system

The United Conservative Party government says it will spend another $750 million on health care as part of an agreement with the Alberta Medical Association.

It said the deal announced Thursday at a news conference in Red Deer is to guarantee that all physicians receive an average rate increase of between four and 5.25 per cent over the next three years.

The $750 million is to be used for recruitment and retention programs, rural and remote programming and expanding capacity across the system.

Health Minister Jason Copping said urgent action is needed to stabilize the health-care system that has been under increased pressure during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There is no quick fix, there is no easy fix,” Copping said.

There have been concerns over how sustainable the health-care system will be as a “bad flu season” approaches.

Copping said Alberta Health Services is working to increase its capacity to prepare for the potential of increased hospitalizations.

Dr. Vesta Michelle Warren, president of the Alberta Medical Association, said it’s important to build trust and maintain relationships between doctors and the government.

“Trust is something that is easily broken and hard to rebuild,” Warren said at the news conference. “It’s the actions going ahead into the future that really is going to be building that trust.”

Copping said the government’s relationship with the association has improved over the past year.

Ponoka family physician Dr. Greg Sawisky slammed the agreement, saying it was “designed to devastate primary care in Alberta.

“If you are struggling to find a family doctor or are worried about losing your family doctor in Red Deer then you should be worried about how this deal will make that challenge even harder,” he said in an email.

Family doctors must pay to run their clinics out of what they charge the government for services. The marginal fee increases at a time when inflation is soaring will likely convince more doctors to leave Alberta, he added.

“The biggest losers of this agreement are Albertans. The government might try and pat themselves on the back about getting a deal with the AMA but family medicine was the sacrificial lamb and our province will be the poorer for it,” he said.

“What’s the point in trying to attract people to move to Alberta if they can’t get help when they are sick or need a doctor? Alberta’s calling but when you get here you’re on your own.”

The agreement comes as the United Conservative Party prepares to choose a new leader and premier on Oct. 6 to replace Jason Kenney. The new leader will face a provincial election in the spring.

Warren said it doesn’t matter who the next premier is.

“Health care is health care and patients need that care no matter who is running the boat,” said Warren. “Stability is necessary to begin rebuilding and healing and making change. Introduction of chaos is not helpful.”

The association filed a lawsuit in April 2020 accusing the government of breaching collective bargaining rights and negotiating in bad faith after it unilaterally tore up a master agreement with doctors and tried to make changes to how they are compensated for their services.

The 11,000 physicians represented by the association refused to ratify a tentative deal in March of 2021, citing distrust of the government as a key factor.

Warren said the lawsuit will remain in place until legislation that allowed the province to rip up the contract is rescinded by the government.

Just over 70 per cent of the physicians who voted were in favour of the agreement, which will be in place until March 2026.

—With files from Paul Cowley/Advocate staff