Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley used day two of the provincial general election to reiterate her claims that if elected, her party would do more to increase the number of physicians, nurses, and health specialists in the province.
Notley said they would be prepared to invest $350 million into the construction of community health centres over four years, and fund those centres with an additional $400 million to hire what the NDP is calling family health teams (also over four years).
The effect, she said, would be to add 4,000 allied health professionals to Alberta’s health care system.
“For the healthcare system itself, this plan means decreased pressure on ERs and ambulances, and lowered waits for acute care,” Notley said.
“It means doctors will have time to focus more on your medical care and less on paperwork. It means great places to work and provide comprehensive care for patients.”
When asked, Notley said that the NDP plan would not require a restructuring of Alberta Health Services.
“It requires thoughtful planning and adequate resources,” she said.
Tuesday’s announcement updated the NDP’s healthcare plan that was released in February of this year based on patient and provider feedback.
“One of the new elements of it is that we are talking about as part of the family health team. We’re going to expand the hours of the clinics, we’re going to ensure that the funding allows for both healthcare providers and patients to have a broader access over longer hours,” Notley said.
“We’ve also talked about how the funding will roll out a little bit further out than the two years we’d originally talked about.”
Staged plan about adding capacity, then recruitment
When asked where doctors would be found to fill positions in the NDP's plan, given the competition from other Canadian jurisdictions for the same job, Notley said that phase one of their plan would be to expand the capacity of doctors to see more patients.
Recruitment would follow once better working environments were implemented for primary care physicians.
"It is actually focused more on expanding the capacity of current doctors to see more patients by giving them more supports around the practice that they deliver," she said.
"What we've heard from many doctors... is that you'll actually succeed in recruiting more doctors and bringing more doctors back into practice, if they are given the opportunity to practice in these kinds of team settings where they're more supported."
She said that doctors would be able to work closely with other health care professionals like nurse practitioners, registered and licenced practical nurses, mental health therapists, pharmacists, social workers, and community health navigators to provide services.
"It will ensure that all Albertans have access to family doctor not to weeks or months from when they need one, but in a matter of days," Notley said.
According to data provided by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta in their quarterly physician resource reports, the number of registered doctors in the province had been rising steadily since 2016 until the pandemic began.
The number of physicians per 100,000 population rose from 207 per 100k in Q1 of 2016, to a peak of 231 per 100k in 2021, falling in 2022, and rising back again to 230 in 2023. In part this was due to slower increases to the number of physicians registering in the province post-2021, and the increase in the overall population.
|Targets and Financial Commitments||Year 2||Year 4||Year 10|
|New Patients With Access to Family Doctor||100,000||300,000||1,000,000|
|New Allied Health Professional Hired||1,800||4,000||9,000|
|Total Family Health Team Clinics||10||40||165|
|Total Capital Funding||$150 million||$350 million||$1.2 billion|
|Incremental Operating Expense||$160 million||$400 million||$1.0 billion|
NDP rejects more privately provided health care
Notley rejected the idea of physicians creating more membership-based health care, where additional fees are charged to patients to access a primary care physician and health care team.
"We are going to work very hard to try to limit the opportunity for that, and certainly, the proposal that we have with respect to family health teams are the exact opposite of that," she said.
"Nobody should have to pay a premium to get access to comprehensive coordinated care. That should be a given because that makes the success of the health care services that people receive greater and it takes pressure off the whole system."
She said that she was also worried about the contracts that have been signed between Alberta Health Services, the Government of Alberta, and chartered surgery providers.
The government had previously stated those facilities were a part of the health system, and that the surgeries performed in these facilities have been paid by the government since the facilities were introduced in the 1990s.
"The benefits of chartered surgical facilities are many, including allowing the system to increase capacity overall. With these facilities set up to handle more routine surgeries, they can complete a larger number than at hospitals alone," said then Minister of Health Jason Copping in March 2023.
"This also allows hospitals to handle more complex and urgent surgeries, which is exactly what they should be doing."
Notley said that the concern they have is when staff who are contracted to hospitals and private surgical clinics are contractually obliged to service patients at the private facilities first.
"We are very worried about the impact that the most recent round of surgical contracts will have on the availability of anesthesiologists when it comes to what should be prioritized for people surgeries," she said.
"We see anesthesiologists going to go into these clinics for relatively simple surgeries, while people who are in dire need of the surgeries wait, because the contract says the anesthesiologist, their bigger priority, is the private private surgery."
Notley said that they would be examining what would be the most cost-effective and successful means of providing surgeries to Albertans if elected.