Details lacking after province reveals plan to expand use of nurse practitioners: union

Kayle Neis/Regina Leader-Post. Minister of Health Everett Hindley answers questions from the press after Question Period at the Saskatchewan Legislative Building on Thursday, October 12, 2023 in Regina.

The Saskatchewan Union of Nurses and NDP health critic say that more details on the initiative are needed.

Angela Amato, Regina Leader-Post

While the province has announced a new initiative aimed at expanding the utilization of nurse practitioners (NPs), Saskatchewan Union of Nurses (SUN) president and the NDP health critic says more details are needed.

Premier Scott Moe and Health Minister Everett Hindley made the announcement at an NP clinic in Warman on Tuesday morning,

The Ministry of Health will be working to pilot a new model for independently operated but publicly funded NP clinics that will work to improve access to primary health care by providing new avenues for patients to seek care, Hindley said in an interview following the announcement

“We still have some gaps in service because there has been difficulty in recruiting family physicians and other health care providers,” he said. “What I’ve heard consistently from the Saskatchewan Association of Nurse Practitioners (SANP), is they want to be more involved in our health care system.”

“In terms of what these nurse practitioner clinics will look like, we will have to work that out with the SANP.”

Hindley said the province will be adding an additional 25 NP positions over this year in rural, regional and northern communities that lack health care providers.

SANP president elect Michelle O’Keefe said clinics will operate as physician clinics, where payment comes from the government, and patients wouldn’t be billed directly.

“It takes away that financial barrier to people accessing health care,” said O’Keefe in an interview following Tuesday’s announcement.

She said the initiative will set up a completely different way to fund NPs, but wasn’t sure on all of the details.

While not a lot of information on the initiative was revealed in Tuesday’s announcement, Hindley said that more details will become available once the budget is released on March 20.

A similar deal in Alberta with NPs has been in the works but continues to be delayed as conversations regarding a new compensation model have slowed.

SUN president Tracy Zambory was pleased to hear the announcement of more NP positions, adding the union led the implementation of a similar pilot in Saskatoon in 2022.

“On the whole, we support any initiative that seeks to fully utilize the expertise of nurse practitioners and help alleviate any strain on areas like emergency rooms,” said Zambory in an interview Tuesday. “But I think it’s important to understand that today was just an announcement with very little detail attached to it and we always must know what those details are.”

While she voiced concerns that the province is relying too heavily on private agency nurses that have cost over $70 million, she said NPs are a good way to meet needs in communities with limited access.

NDP health critic Vicki Mowat called out the province, asking why things get so bad before anything is done.

“200,000 people in Saskatchewan do not have access to a family doctor or nurse practitioner,” said Mowat in a written statement Tuesday. “The government’s announcement is pretty thin on details but we’re hopeful there could be something there.”

Saskatchewan is losing more doctors to other provinces than it’s recruiting, Mowat said citing the Canadian Institute of Health Information.

NPs differ from registered nurses because they have more training and are permitted to perform some of the same duties that physicians can, such as prescribing treatments and diagnosing patients.

A privately owned NP clinic is anticipated to open in Martensville next month.