National Newswatch

SASKATOON — Saskatchewan's health minister says a move to increase compensation for family doctors offering after-hours care will help people get access to physicians while the province continues to deliberate how to reform a payment model. 

The province announced Friday an agreement in principle with the Saskatchewan Medical Association that will see additional funding available to eligible after-hours urgent care and walk-in clinics. 

There will also be an additional $8 to $12 per visit in after-hours funding for fee-for-service family physicians. 

"We have heard the physicians concerns, as well as those of Saskatchewan residents, and we are responding to those concerns," Merriman said in Saskatoon.

Like the rest of the country, Saskatchewan’s health-care system is short-staffed and under strain. People are also struggling to find doctors who are accepting new patients.

The province said the funding should reduce pressure on emergency rooms while supporting clinics to increase patient access on evenings, weekends and holidays.

Merriman said ensuring patients have access to family doctors and primary care services is a top priority for the Saskatchewan Party government. 

"We know there is more work to do, and our government will continue to make record investments to build a stronger health-care system that works for everyone," he said. 

Merriman could not provide a cost but said it was not included in the provincial budget released on March 22. That budget did include plans to provide the Saskatchewan Health Authority with an additional $191.4 million, with money going to hire and retain staff. 

The Saskatchewan government also introduced legislative changes earlier this week to allow for licensing physician assistants.

Merriman said he hopes final details of the agreement will be worked out quickly to allow for extended hours to be implemented. 

Dr. John Gjevre, president of the Saskatchewan Medical Association, said it's a positive step in improving access for patients. For clinics that don’t currently have the resources and staffing to offer extended hours, the new funding may help keep their doors open to better serve patients, he added. 

"There is no escaping the fact that family medicine is facing some serious challenges in this province," Gjevre said. 

The association is also to continue to work with the province on other changes to help alleviate pressures family doctors are facing and make Saskatchewan an attractive place for future physicians to work, Gjevre added. 

He said there is growing recognition that there needs to be changes for how primary care is delivered. Fee-for-service is not working for everyone, Gjevre said. 

British Columbia, Alberta and Newfoundland and Labrador have announced changes to the way they pay family physicians. 

Dr. Adam Ogieglo, a family physician in Saskatoon, said Saskatchewan must also make changes or it will fall behind other regions also trying to get new doctors. 

"To me, it's a no-brainer. It's an easy win for everybody. So I hope it happens as soon as possible," he said. 

Merriman said Saskatchewan will be watching to see what happens in the other regions but recognizes it will also need to make changes in the future.

Dr. Carla Holinaty, a family physician on the board of the medical association, said the agreement is an important sign to physicians. However, she has heard loud and clear that the province needs to move to a different payment method. 

"That's critically important if we want to retain the doctors we have and attract new doctors to work in this province," she said. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 31, 2023. 

Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press

The Canadian Press
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