Alberta vows to improve surgery wait times amid anaesthetist shortage

Alberta is investing money to perform over 300,000 surgical procedures this year. Nearly 20 per cent of those will be done in chartered surgical clinics.

As the province touts investments to improve surgical wait times and access to surgery in rural Alberta, questions remain around what the government is doing to recruit doctors.

“My understanding is that we do have the staff in place,” said Health Minister Adriana LaGrange. “Obviously there are certain aspects of staffing the workforce that are more challenging than others, particularly around anaesthesiologists.”

Both the province’s health ministry and Alberta Health Services say they are working to recruit doctors in Canada and abroad to practise in the province. Wait times for some surgeries are still outside acceptable zones, particularly in rural Alberta.

Alberta budgeted $300 million for the health authority to perform more than 300,000 surgical procedures this year.

But doctors working in Alberta hospitals tell CityNews they have concerns around who will perform the surgeries, adding there is a worldwide shortage of anaesthetists to contend with.

“A lot of changes happened after COVID, a lot of them retired,” said Dr. Paul Parks, the president of the Alberta Medical Association. “A lot of the workforce planning around trying to ensure that we had enough to keep up, was never really done adequately.

“I want to praise the government and say absolutely we should be focused on reducing wait times. But as we add more and more burden and we have less and less anaesthetists, and we then we spread them around thinner and thinner, there’s just not enough of them to go around.”

The province says more than 60,000 of those surgeries will be performed at private charter clinics that receive provincial money for surgeries contracted out to them.

“They alleviate the stress on our hospitals so they can do the more complex surgeries, so it’s everything,” LaGrange said. “But again, we want to make sure that they’re done within clinically approved timelines.”

Alberta’s Opposition NDP health critic fears contracting out more surgeries to chartered facilities is a path towards private healthcare.

“We have the capacity within our public system to be increasing our surgical capacity, so when we have that capacity we should be doing it in the public system,” Luanne Metz said.

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