Alberta Medical Association in standoff with Redford Government
By Christopher Walsh
Talks between the Tory government and doctors on a new contract appear to be going nowhere, forcing the Alberta Medical Association to appeal to patients Tuesday in an attempt to put pressure on the government.
“This is our attempt at getting our patients’ opinions and input into how health care needs to evolve in Alberta,” said AMA president Dr. Michael Giuffre at a press conference in Calgary.
“We want to see them engaged. We want them to give feedback to their MLAs. We want them to send their letters and emails to the Minister and explain whether or not they feel doctors have a role in health care.”
Alberta’s doctors have been working without a contract for close to two years. Last month, Health Minister Fred Horne announced a government imposed “best offer” contract worth $463 million over four years.
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But the Alberta Medical Association says that deal would phase out programs and other services that would cost over $200 million while overhead costs for doctors would continue to escalate.
Both sides had been working on picking a facilitator for the bargaining table early in the new year. But Giuffre says progress has been slow.
“We’ve been struggling,” he said. “Last week we made no progress. This week we’re still talking …”
The new campaign to appeal to patients will involve posters and pamphlets highlighting what the Alberta Medical Association calls the Redford government’s reneging of nine principles that were agreed upon before last spring’s provincial election. Issues include recruitment programs, the establishment of an oversight committee and a 2.5 per cent compensation increase from April 1, 2011 to April 1, 2012.
The new awareness campaign will be paid for through a $500 physician levy that has amounted to over $3 million, Giuffre says.
The point is to get doctors and patients discussing the issues, Giuffre says.
“I think they should tell the minister and tell the government what kind of health care system they want,” he said. “I don’t think they should have confidence in a minister that tells them the type of health care system he has in mind for them. It needs to be an important feedback loop for the minister and for the government.”
Health Minister Fred Horne has stated he is still committed to getting a deal done with the province’s doctors by the end of February. Talks are expected to resume in January, after a facilitator is approved by both sides.