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Alberta NDP promise more access to doctors, feud with UCP on state of health care

Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley says health care has deteriorated badly under the United Conservatives, leaving as many as 800,000 Albertans without a family doctor.
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Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley says health care has deteriorated badly under the United Conservatives, leaving as many as 800,000 Albertans without a family doctor.

Notley says if her party wins the May 29 election, it would spend $400 million to hire more health workers and another $350 million to create 40 teams of health specialists to provide more comprehensive primary care province-wide.

“If you need a doctor, you will get a doctor,” Notley told reporters at a campaign stop in Calgary on Tuesday.

“Over the past four years, our health care has been thrown into chaos by the UCP.

“They’ll tell you they fixed it, but Albertans aren’t feeling it and they’re not buying it.

“Our (emergency rooms) are still full, our ambulances are still delayed and many (patients) are waiting months and months for critical tests and surgeries.”

Health care is expected to be a critical ballot box issue as Alberta, like many provinces, continues to struggle with health-care worker shortages and surgical backlogs after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Notley, however, said Alberta’s problems have been exacerbated by the UCP’s policy decisions, including picking wage fights with doctors and nurses during the pandemic and creating chaos by firing the board of Alberta Health Services and the chief medical officer of health.

The UCP government replaced the AHS board with a single administrator. UCP Leader Danielle Smith has said streamlined decision-making and adding more chartered surgical facilities has allowed the province to substantially reduce backlogs.

However, Notley said recent contracts signed by the province to pay for work at chartered surgical facilities — private facilities performing operations paid for by the public purse — raise concerns that key support staff are being siphoned off.

“We haven’t been able to see the full contracts, but we are very worried about the impact that the most recent round of surgical contracts will have on availability of anesthesiologists,” Notley said.

“We see anesthesiologists going to go into these (private) clinics for relatively simple surgeries while people who are in dire need of the surgeries wait because the contract says the anesthesiologist’s bigger priority is the private surgery.”

The UCP said in a statement that the changes they made were to fix a dysfunctional system overseen by Notley’s government when it was in power from 2015 to 2019.

“We inherited a broken, bloated and bureaucratic health system from the NDP that was failing Albertans,” said the statement Tuesday from party spokesman Dave Prisco.

“We immediately began streamlining resources to the front lines and, while progress was stalled by the pandemic, the results are now being seen.

“Health spending has increased by over $2 billion since the NDP left office and we’ve added 700 physicians and nearly 6,000 staff in AHS including 1,800 (registered nurses) and 300 paramedics.

“In 2022 alone, we added 254 physicians and 800 nursing staff. We understand more work needs to be done. Stay tuned.”

Both parties disagree not only on the past, but also the future of health care. Both have guaranteed they will not de-list items or prescriptions currently covered by medicare.

But the NDP said the UCP promise is fragile given Smith has declined to disavow statements made in 2021 when she advocated for out-of-pocket payments for medical services such as seeing a family doctor.

Smith has countered by saying she is taking the advice of her caucus, cabinet and party to commit to public health care, adding that the NDP is deliberately muddying her message.

Notley said the NDP’s proposed 40 family health teams would ensure every Albertan has access to a family doctor, as well as nurse practitioners, mental health therapists, pharmacists, social workers and dietitians.

She said the plan would also decrease pressure on the emergency departments at hospitals and ambulances.

Tuesday was the first full day on the campaign trail. Smith did not hold a formal media availability.