Sask. health ministers grilled by doctors worried about state of health care in the province

Saskatchewan Health Minister Paul Merriman addresses doctors in Regina on Friday during the annual meeting of the Saskatchewan Medical Association.  (Alexander Quon/CBC - image credit)
Saskatchewan Health Minister Paul Merriman addresses doctors in Regina on Friday during the annual meeting of the Saskatchewan Medical Association. (Alexander Quon/CBC - image credit)

As complaints about shortages in Saskatchewan's medical sector continue, doctors had the rare opportunity to put officials in charge of the province's health policy on the hot seat.

The Saskatchewan Medical Association (SMA) held its annual assembly at the Delta Hotel in Regina on Friday, and for the first time in three years the event was held in-person, allowing doctors from across the province to ask questions of Health Minister Paul Merriman and Everett Hindley, the minister of of mental health and addictions, seniors, and rural and remote health.

"I think it's always better to have the opportunity to discuss these critical issues in person rather than by telephone or or Webex," said SMA president Dr. John Gjevre.

Many of the questions focused on how the province was working create a more stable medical field in Saskatchewan.

The shortage of workers in the medical field are well known. The shortages have been reported in the province's emergency departments, lab servicesobstetrics, family medicine and nursing units, and are not limited to a rural or urban locations.

As a result, doctors wanted to know how the province plans to alleviate the shortage of doctors and health-care workers.

"There are significant challenges across the country, it's not just a Saskatchewan problem," Gjevre said. "We need to revitalize and, frankly, transform how we approach family medicine and primary care."

Merriman and Hindley continually emphasized that the health-care system has problems.

Speaking to media after the doctors question period, Merriman pointed to the plan the province unveiled last month as the solution.

Alexander Quon/CBC
Alexander Quon/CBC

The $60-million initiative aims to bring about a thousand more physicians, nurses and other health-care support staff to fill vacancies across the province.

Doctors are especially important, Merriman said, touting the "second-best compensation package for physicians in the country" that he believes will help lure candidates.

"I don't have a specific number," Merriman told reporters. "I would I guess I would put it this way: If there's a doctor out there that wants to be in Saskatchewan, we'll hire you."

Merriman says the province has been able to recruit 107 doctors in the last 12 months, which works out to a net increase of 40 doctors over that time period.

Fifty-one of them are general practitioners, he added.

But critics, including some of the doctors at the SMA convention, have pointed out that plan is not meant to address immediate shortages.

CBC attempted to ask Everett Hindley, the minister of rural health, about the staffing challenges in Saskatchewan. However, he left the building as other interviews were still underway.

Alexander Quon/CBC
Alexander Quon/CBC

In his answers to doctors' questions, Merriman continually admitted there will continue to be short-term pain as they work toward finding solutions.

Merriman thanked the many doctors at the conference who provided him with suggestions on how to address issues in the province.

"We're going to work with them because they have a very good working knowledge of the system and how we can make things improve for the patient," he said.