SMA president hopes new contract will stabilize family medicine in Sask.

Michelle Berg/Saskatoon StarPhoenix. Saskatchewan Medical Association president Annette Epp stands for a photo in the staircase at the SMA office. Photo taken in Saskatoon, Sask. on Monday, February 5, 2024.

The agreement includes an investment into recruitment and retention programs, a $10 million innovation fund and rural recognition premiums.

Angela Amato, Regina Leader-Post

A new four-year contract for Saskatchewan doctors that was announced Monday aims to recruit and retain physicians in the province by paying competitive wages and increasing team-based care.

Saskatchewan Medical Association (SMA) president Dr. Annette Epp says that she’s excited to have years of work on the agreement come to fruition.

 “We really hope that this will stabilize family medicine in Saskatchewan and also send a signal to all physicians in Saskatchewan that practising medicine here is a very good, lifelong career alternative.” said Epp in an interview Monday.

“We’re very hopeful that this contract is going to be very attractive to our medical learners who are in the midst of training to become family physicians and other specialists and that they will choose to start and hopefully complete their careers in Saskatchewan.”

The agreement includes ongoing funding for physician services and initiatives to the tune of approximately $245 million, a general rate increase of 2.5 per cent every year from April 1, 2022 to March 31, 2026, a competitive market rate adjustment applied to the first year of the agreement, and increased funding to support long-term retention, parental leave and continuing medical education.

“In all specialties there are not an excess of doctors around and so it was very important in this contract that we put in measures to make family medicine much more stable and sustainable in Saskatchewan,” said Epp. “We needed to get competitive fee increases across the board for all physicians to make sure that they wanted to stay practising in Saskatchewan and hopefully attract new grads and maybe even be able to attract doctors from other places.”

A statement from the Government of Saskatchewan says these initiatives will allow the province to remain competitive in the midst of a challenging national and international labour landscape.

“The agreement provides a strong foundation for competitive remuneration and benefits, and addresses concerns raised by physicians while we continue to work toward a full blended capitation model,” said Health Minister Everett Hindley in Monday’s news release. “This is a step forward toward greater access for patients to primary health care providers, and that ongoing work will continue.”

An innovation fund of up to $10 million annually over the duration of the agreement will go toward increasing the amount of team-based care in primary health care settings, allowing providers to work to the top of their areas of expertise.

“The best kind of care for patients is care that is comprehensive, where you have each professional practising to the top of the scope of their practice,” said Epp.

The agreement also introduces a new primary care payment model for family physicians that unifies existing volume-based pay with a new capitation payment based on patient contacts and panel size, allowing more time to address complex patient issues and an increased focus on preventative care.

Epp said because Saskatchewan is a very geographically dispersed province, it was important for the SMA to recognize the unique nature and critical importance of rural medicine through the Rural and Northern Practice Recognition Premium to support and maintain health services in rural and remote areas.

Ninety three per cent of physicians who cast ballots voted in favour of the agreement, which Epp says took over three years to put together.

“Our goal was to reach an agreement that recognizes the critical role physicians play in the health care system and provide the support they need to deliver high-quality, accessible patient care,” said Epp. “I firmly believe this new agreement acknowledges and values Saskatchewan physicians.”