Saskatchewan to provide $200,000 to family doctors in rural and northern areas

SASKATOON — The Saskatchewan government is to provide family doctors in rural and northern communities $200,000 over five years in an effort to address staffing shortages in those areas.

Premier Scott Moe told delegates the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities convention in Saskatoon that the program aims to attract doctors to those areas, where the government has struggled to hire them.

"I hear you when you say there needs to be more done," Moe said Wednesday. "Our cabinet hears you, our caucus most certainly hears you and we know we have more work to do in this space."

The program previously offered eligible doctors $47,000 over four years.

Eligible doctors must be practising in a rural or remote area and hold an active licence. The funding will be available to new graduates and doctors who have been assessed through the Saskatchewan International Physician Practice Assessment Program.

Doctors practising in Regina, Saskatoon and smaller cities, including Yorkton, Moose Jaw and Prince Albert, are not eligible. Physicians in the bedroom communities of Saskatoon and Regina are also not eligible.

Should doctors be approved under the program, they will receive instalments over a five-year period and must apply each year.

The changes come as Saskatchewan tries to hire roughly 1,000 health-care staff over the next two years to address staffing shortages.

Moe has described this plan as "ambitious," but critics say Saskatchewan needs to do more as other provinces beef up their recruitment and retention plans.

In late 2022, the provincial auditor flagged Saskatchewan is expected to be short 2,000 hard-to-recruit health staffover the next five years, suggesting the government needs to move faster.

Some doctors in Saskatchewan have asked the government to change the payment model and move away from the current fee-for-service system.

Nursing unions have also called on the government to better retain current staff and ensure new hires don't burn out and leave.

Moe has said the province is already making progress on hiring nurses, particularly from the Philippines, but acknowledged Saskatchewan has a ways to go.

He told delegates that next week's provincial budget is to address ongoing issues in the health-care system, including more surgeries performed in hospitals andprivate clinics that receive public funding.

He also pledged more MRI and CT scans, as well as infrastructure funding for hospitals and long-term care homes.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 15, 2023.

The Canadian Press