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Nurses, doctors leaving rural Sask. in high numbers: report

Saskatchewan NDP leader Carla Beck, surrounded by health critics Jared Clarke and Vicki Mowat, says Saskatchewan has seen a decline in nurses and doctors since 2018. (Keenan Sorokan/CTV News) Saskatchewan NDP leader Carla Beck, surrounded by health critics Jared Clarke and Vicki Mowat, says Saskatchewan has seen a decline in nurses and doctors since 2018. (Keenan Sorokan/CTV News)
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New data is highlighting the difficulty of retaining healthcare workers in rural Saskatchewan as more doctors and nurses continue to leave the province.

A report on the health workforce in Canada from The Canadian Institute for Health Information shows there were 1,760 rural and remote registered nurses in 2022, compared to 2,234 in 2018, the year Scott Moe took office as Premier.

"This is a government that seems more and more content to make big decisions without input in small rooms in Regina, instead of getting out and actually talking to people in this province," Saskatchewan NDP leader Carla Beck said.

The Saskatchewan NDP says the 21 per cent drop is the largest of all provinces in that time frame.

While the province routinely touts its Health Human Resources Action Plan intended to recruit and incentivize more doctors and nurses to stay here, Beck says their plan simply isn't working fast enough.

"The price that people are ultimately paying is with their health," Beck said.

Minister of Health Everett Hindley says a boost to its rural and northern physician recruitment incentive paying rural doctors $200,000 for working in a community over five years will encourage more doctors to make Saskatchewan home.

Hindley says a new contract with the Saskatchewan Medical Association signed earlier this month, which will explore a new pay structure for primary care doctors, will also benefit rural areas.

"I believe and I think it puts us in a much better position when it comes to fair and adequate compensation, very competitive compensation for doctors right across this province," Hindley said.

The NDP has a three-stage plan to improve healthcare access in rural and urban communities. It wants the province to incentivize people from Saskatchewan to stay and grow their skills, take up the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses' call to establish a nursing task force and update the Ambulance Act to alleviate pressures on the healthcare system and have ambulances available more often.

Rural and remote healthcare critic Jared Clarke said a decrease of 474 rural and remote registered nurses in Saskatchewan since 2018 is largely due to the province unwillingness to listen to healthcare workers in these local communities.

"Above all else, this government should be listening to local leaders. Those are who know what's best for their communities and deserve a seat at the table," he said.

Health critic Vicki Mowat says the province's recruitment and retention track record of doctors hasn't been successful either. Mowat said the P.A. Parkland Health Region, the Sun Country Health Region and the Kelsey Trail Health Region have all seen a decrease in doctors since 2018. The province lost 35 physicians of all types in 2022 to other Canadian provinces.

"Other provinces also experienced the pandemic," Mowat said. "And unfortunately, what we've seen in Saskatchewan is that our health care system under the leadership of Scott Moe hasn't bounced back in the same way that other provinces have."

In a statement to CTV News, the Ministry of Health maintained the number of doctors in the province has increase 62 per cent between 2007 and 2023.

“That is more than 1,000 doctors,” the statement said.

The ministry also pointed out the Canadian Institute for Health Information reports Saskatchewan has a higher-than-average number of physicians located in rural areas.

“In 2022, 11.4 per cent of all Saskatchewan physicians were located in rural areas. In contrast, the Canadian average of physicians located in rural areas is 7.5 per cent of all physicians and 12.8 per cent of family physicians,” the ministry said.

Mowat is looking at what B.C. is doing to incentive doctors by limiting overhead costs Saskatchewan doctors are currently experiencing under its current fee for service model.

"We know that we have seen a mass exodus of burnt out doctors," she said. "So that's why we need to help to improve the working conditions so that people want to stay in healthcare."

Hindley feels the current initiatives in place are effective.

"I think the efforts that we're taking as far as a government and as the (Saskatchewan Health Authority) has been working, but there's always more that we can be doing," Hindley said.

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