By Alejandra Pulido-Guzman
Southern Alberta Newspapers
The NDP MLA for Lethbridge West, and the Alberta NDP health critic for rural and primary care, are accusing the UCP government of unleashing a wave of chaos into the healthcare system with its plans for restructuring health services.
Speaking to reporters last month, health critic David Shepherd highlighted the fact that even though the government said a lot, much was left out.
“There’s one thing that comes through clearly, there was nothing announced this past week that will provide any new doctors, or nurses, or paramedics, or healthcare aides; not one new frontline healthcare worker in this UCP plan,” said Shepherd.
He said premier Daniel Smith doesn’t seem to care about the basic fundamental problem, which is a catastrophic shortage of frontline healthcare workers in Alberta, and instead of investing in patient care the UCP is embarking on a massive expansion of government bureaucracy over the next two years.
“They plan to establish 14 brand new government agencies, boards, councils, centres and secretariats. None of that is going to make decision-making faster or closer to home. Instead, it’s going to create more chaos in our clinics and hospitals. The UCP plan is going to make healthcare harder to find and slower to get.”
MLA Shannon Phillips said the shortages Shepherd is talking about with respect to frontline workers are a serious problem.
“You can’t find a family doctor accepting new patients,” she said. “It’s very difficult across the province and it’s certainly almost impossible here in Lethbridge. We have fewer doctors in Lethbridge today than we did three years ago. I know of many people who rely on regular prescriptions who have to keep trying their luck with a walk-in clinic or a tele-health app.”
Phillips said that’s not normal for a city of 100,000 people with a major hospital, a university and college, and problem is that the province is barely replacing the doctors and nurses who are retiring or moving out of the province.
“I really worry that this latest radical upheaval will drive more folks to look at early retirement, or at a different province, or not coming here entirely.”
She said the new wave of UCP healthcare chaos comes when clinics and hospitals are already significantly strained.
“We don’t need a plan for new bureaucracy, we need a plan to get more healthcare workers to the front lines today and into the future.”
In relation to the multiple closures of rural clinics due to staffing shortages, especially in Milk River, Shepherd said the first thing the province needs is stability in the system.
“Unfortunately, what we’ve seen over the last four and a half years is just utter chaos and indeed antagonism attacks on doctors and frontline healthcare workers from the UCP government, so that’s largely what drove doctors out of practice and out of our province, and this has created the massive deficit that we’re now trying to fill,” said Shepherd.
He said the UCP government spent most of the last three years fighting with doctors, talking about a new payment system but making no progress because of its own antagonism and incompetence.
Despite bashing the government’s healthcare plan, Shepherd said it has done at least one thing right.
“I will give the government credit for a proper decision here; investment in more training in rural areas. The program being developed at the University of Lethbridge in collaboration with University of Calgary is an excellent step. When we train medical professionals in rural settings, they are more likely to stay and work in rural settings.”