Alberta’s health minister says he hasn’t given up on resolving bitter dispute with province’s doctors

Alberta’s health minister says he hasn’t given up on resolving a bitter dispute with the province’s doctors that developed after he tore up their master pay agreement.

Tyler Shandro said Monday that he is happy to continue talking with the Alberta Medical Association (AMA) and met with president Dr. Christine Molnar for an extended period last week.

He said there is definitely “an uncertainty” in the relationship between the association and the United Conservative Party government.

Shandro said the government provided doctors with a draft master agreement on Aug. 11.

“We invited the AMA to go through that draft and to red-line it and tell us how they want to be able to amend the draft we have given so we can work with them,” Shandro said.

The Alberta Medical Association did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In February, Shandro unilaterally ended the Alberta government’s master agreement with the AMA and imposed a new funding framework.

The AMA filed a lawsuit against the government in April, alleging Shandro’s actions breached their charter rights. The province filed a statement of defence this week denying doctors’ charter rights had been breached and accusing the doctors of “job action” for either withdrawing, or threatening to withdraw, their services.

In mid-July, the AMA released a survey that suggested 42 per cent of the 1,740 doctors who responded are planning to leave the province.

Another 87 per cent said they would alter their practices in response to the pay changes. Nearly half said they would change or withdraw services they provide to hospitals and other AHS facilities.

Doctors in at least 10 communities, including Sundre, Pincher Creek and Lac La Biche, have already either withdrawn services or indicated they plan to leave.Shandro responded to the AMA survey by threatening to publicly release the billings of individual physicians.

In a move seen as a dramatic escalation in the months-long dispute, Shandro also directed the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta to change its standards of practice for physicians by July 20 in an attempt to stop the province’s doctors from leaving their practices en masse.

While the AMA has said more than 40 per cent of its members have at least contemplated leaving Alberta, Shandro has dismissed that figure.

“We actually haven’t seen that happen in our rural communities, quite frankly, and we look forward to continuing to work with the 700 physicians who serve our rural and small urban patients in the province,” he said.

He said, for example, that nine physicians in Sundre gave up their hospital privileges, then switched to a status, which allows them to get paid differently, but they still work at the hospital there.

The doctors in Pincher Creek, who were to stop providing services at the hospital on Aug. 1, agreed to continue working in the local hospital for a further 90 days after the town council intervened and convinced them to stay. 

When the extension was announced at the end of July, Mayor Don Anderberg slammed the minister, the ministry and Alberta Health Services for failing to communicate with the community and with doctors. 

He said Shandro has not been honest about the impact that doctors leaving the hospital could have on the community and provided details from an update given to council from AHS. 

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