Gavin Parker, a physician in Pincher Creek, with his wife Jennifer and their children. The doctor, who has specialized training and is often on call, will receive about $30,000 less next year. Photo contributed

Doctors’ on-call pay cut expected to hurt rural health care

Gavin Parker, a physician in Pincher Creek, will see a pay cut of about $30,000 next year.

He is a general practitioner with specialized training, just like some of the other doctors at his clinic.

It’s a normal practice among rural doctors to provide wide scope of services to their patients during emergencies.

Rural doctors are receiving a reduced hourly rate to be on call, going from $18.27 to $11.50, because of a revised provincial fee schedule.

Parker said the pay cut will depend on how much on-call work they do.

The impact will be felt in rural maternity wards, he said.

“It could be Olds, it may be in Lacombe hospital, it could be Innisfail – any of the rural hospitals that offer surgical or services, and in particular, provide on-call services for the benefit of rural maternity patients.

“All those doctors are getting an hourly wage cut,” he said Tuesday.

The change will lead to gaps in service, put some people’s health at risk and eventually lead to increased pressure at bigger centres such as the Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre, said Parker, treasurer at The Society of Rural Physicians of Canada.

“Every single one of your rural hospital that provides C-section backup or maternal programs in their hospital will be affected by this,” he said.

“You will just have fewer and fewer providers in the community, and because you can’t be on call all the time, there’s going to be some gaps.

“Some maternity patients, in particular, will be shifted by ambulances on Alberta’s winter roads, possibly putting both mom and baby at risk,” the husband and father of three said.

Parker is a general practitioner anaesthesiologist and is on call often. The Associate Clinic, where he works, also has two general practitioner surgeons. The clinic is losing one of the surgeons and that means it’s time to recruit someone else.

But recruiting will not be easy with these changes in pay, especially when other provinces, such as British Columbia, pay a significantly higher wage for on-call work.

“It’s going to become more difficult for us to recruit. Rural physicians are probably the most portable workforce that exist.”

Parker, who is satisfied with his compensation, said he understands the province’s finances are not in the best shape and that everyone needs to contribute, but the trouble is these changes affect rural health care by a huge margin.

Rural patients make up 20 per cent of the province’s population.

“These are the people who grow our food, process our oil and build our highways. These are the patients that are going to be left without adequate health care because of these changes.”

The physician does not anticipate these changes to be reversed.

“I imagine there are more and deeper cuts coming to physicians in general, so to be honest, I would be amazed if they made any changes to this,” he said.

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