Calgary

Doctor cap being considered by Alberta Health worries physicians

Alberta doctors are worried the provincial government wants to limit the number of physicians allowed to practice medicine in the province.

Cap is one solution province considering to rein in ballooning health-care costs

Dr. Sharron Spicer, president of the Calgary and Area Medical Staff Society, says it would not be possible to maintain the current level of care quality while reducing the number of working physicians. (Jennifer Lee/CBC)

Alberta doctors are worried the provincial government wants to limit the number of physicians allowed to practice medicine in the province.

It's one of the solutions Alberta Health is considering as it tries to rein in ballooning health-care costs.

Dr. Sharron Spicer, president of the Calgary and Area Medical Staff Society, says she's heard from a lot of concerned physicians.

"It would be dangerous to think that we could simply cut the number of doctors and maintain the same level of quality care," she said.

Concerns began percolating in the fall, after doctors reached a new deal with the province, Spicer said.

The uncertainty about what the cap may hold has Spicer worried about how a cap would affect Alberta's doctor supply.

"We could end up with a real imbalance in terms of specialty and family physicians, and an imbalance in terms of the locations that they practise," she said.

"Those doctors who are currently in training might be discouraged from trying to enter Alberta to practise or we might  have difficulty recruiting those who are already senior in practise and might bring valuable skills."

The deal included a plan to look at the number and distribution of Alberta's doctors.

Physician supply growing faster than population

The head of the Alberta Medical Association says change is needed.

"The physician supply or numbers of physicians in the province has been increasing at a rate that is beyond that of the population," said Dr. Padraic Carr.

 "Obviously that's something that's not sustainable and something that can't continue indefinitely."

Alberta Health says the new plan, which it hopes to implement in 2017, will allow for roughly the same number of new doctor positions as medical grads who stay in Alberta every year. 

For perspective, in 2015, there was a net increase of 454 new physicians in the province, including 194 Alberta medical school graduates.

A committee made up of doctors' groups, government officials and medical school representatives is now looking at the issue, including how to get physicians to rural and remote communities where they are needed. 

Dr. Spicer hopes the committee will focus on closing the gaps that exist in the health-care system.

"We really need to be careful that we're not just looking at numbers," said Spicer.

"We need to base it on the needs of the patients, the needs of the community, and whether those are being adequately served." 

With files from Jennifer Lee

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