Alberta doctors reach 4-year contract agreement with province


Alberta doctors have ratified a new four-year agreement with the provincial government.

On Thursday morning, the province said the agreement with the Alberta Medical Association focuses primarily on physician recruitment and retention, and rebuilding relationships with Alberta physicians.

“The agreement will ensure Alberta doctors’ compensation remains competitive,” Health Minister Jason Copping said, adding it’s about much more than that. “It’s about working together to better serve patients across our healthcare system.

WADA President Dr. Vesta Michelle Warren said the agreement was good for doctors, patients and the healthcare system.

“This will allow physicians to contribute to decision-making and provide expertise on what matters to patients,” Warren said.

“It provides raises in line with other regulations, valuable programs, business cost support, fair processes for working together on compensation or other issues, and ways to resolve disputes. The agreement will help stabilize medical practices struggling with rising costs. Stability is key to retaining and attracting physicians.

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Alberta physicians will receive a guaranteed 4% wage increase over the four-year term of the agreement.

The province has committed $252 million in new spending over the four-year term for communities and specialties facing recruitment and retention challenges. The province has recognized that it faces challenges in ensuring access to family doctors in remote and rural areas.

“The past three years have been tough, especially in smaller communities, and recruiting rural doctors is harder than ever,” Copping said. “We need more physicians in smaller communities across the province and this agreement will boost our recruitment.

“We need to add capacity across the system and continue to work toward the goal of better access to scheduled surgeries and other care than we had before COVID.”

“There is a shortage of health care workers in Canada and indeed around the world, and the competition is going to be fierce,” Warren said. “This deal will bring stability and that’s key to start attracting more, and the provisions will help us stay competitive.”

Lorian Hardcastle, an associate professor at the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Law and Medicine, said that while this agreement is an improvement over the tentative agreement that was rejected earlier this year, it does not don’t think it will do much to improve physician recruitment and retention.

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“For some people, having a ratified agreement in place or having a sense of stability could be a tick in favor of why they would come to Alberta or choose to leave. But that’s just one factor,” she explained.

“There are other important factors, such as the perception of how health care workers are treated in the province, the perception of the health care system as a whole, the feeling that the health care system as a whole is a good place to work, is stable. So a deal is really only part of the puzzle when it comes to recruitment and retention.

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A lump sum of $40 million will also be spent to expand primary care networks in the first two years.

“We need to act urgently to stabilize the system and deal with the pressures that have increased with the pandemic,” Copping said.

The agreement also includes increased investments in physician fees, with specialties facing greater financial pressures and seeing higher rate increases in the first three years of tenure. These specialties include family medicine, neurology, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics, and psychiatry.

“We need to give more money to family doctors because, quite frankly, that’s the workhorse,” Copping said. “That’s where we have the biggest shortages and that’s the foundation of our health care system and we have to make it work.”

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Higher-paying specialties such as ophthalmology and radiology will still see rate increases, but at a slower pace.

The government has also pledged to review daily doctor visit caps, improve the virtual care code and expand physician support programs to medical examiners.

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Alberta doctors voted against a previous tentative agreement earlier this year and have been without a deal with the province for more than two years since then-Health Minister Tyler Shandro canceled the OK.

This new agreement includes a commitment from Alberta Health to repeal Section 40.2 of the Alberta Health Care Insurance Act, which enabled the government to terminate the last agreement with the AMA.

In return, the AMA agreed to drop the lawsuit it filed against the government without seeking costs.

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WADA and its members would like to see the legislation repealed as soon as possible.

Alberta will have a new premier next week, following the results of the UCP leadership race, which will be released on October 6.

Hardcastle said the outcome of this vote will impact the government’s future relationship with doctors.

“There may be a lot of instability ahead, depending on who gets elected,” she said.

“While I think repealing this provision is a step in the right direction in regaining the trust of doctors, it’s still important for them to know that depending on who the next leader will be…Prime Minister, I’m concerned the extent to which that person could undermine that promise through new legislation or by issuing directives to the order, or otherwise relaxing their regulatory authority.

“It’s far from a done deal in terms of what this will all look like. I think whoever the next leader is will be a lot more defining of this relationship than this agreement will be. »

Warren pointed out that the AMA dropping its lawsuit will only happen once the legislation is repealed.

“It’s actually in this deal,” she said. “My appeal to politicians around the world is that stability is needed to start rebuilding, healing and bringing about change. And introducing more chaos is not helpful.

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“Trust is something that’s easily broken and hard to rebuild, and for a lot of doctors it’s the actions that have been taken this year, it’s the actions that are coming up that will really start to rebuild that trust.”

Copping added that he had spoken with all of the UCP leadership candidates about the deal.

“I can tell you that they understand the importance of the agreement and they understand the importance of doctors moving forward,” he said.

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In a statement, NDP Alberta Health Critic David Shepherd said he hopes the deal will put health care on a positive path, but added that “the scars that left in this province will not heal overnight”.

“Albertans have been through the worst times of this pandemic as the UCP has actively worsened the health care system by attacking doctors,” he said.

“In many ways, this deal simply overrides decisions made by the same UCP cabinet in which Jason Copping serves.”

Alberta Health and the AMA said Thursday that 70.2% of responding physicians voted yes to the new agreement, which was tentatively reached in August. The AMA said the turnout was 45.8%.

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The term of the agreement is from April 1, 2022 to March 31, 2026.

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