Dwindling doctor availability is compromising Albertans’ health

Alberta’s health care system is falling apart, and Albertans are suffering because of it.

Many of us are fortunate enough to lead a relatively healthy life — one without relying on regular hospital visits. But, life can change in an instant.

Imagine if you were to suddenly require constant access to certain healthcare services. If you break your arm and go to the emergency room (ER), you might wait up to 36 hours to get assessed — something Edmontonians faced this November. You would probably wait even longer for surgery if necessary. Then, there is the aspect of aftercare. You would have to deal with things such as physiotherapy and routine check-up appointments — long after your initial visit to the ER.

Health is an on-going aspect of our lives, and Canada’s free health care system allows most people to receive the care they need. However, the ease and accessibility of obtaining this free health care is declining, especially in Alberta. 

On top of long ER wait times, there are also a limited number of doctors accepting new patients in the province. In May 2022, 390 doctors were accepting new patients. Now, the number is closer to 190. These factors can make it difficult to access proper care in a timely manner, and can lead to a distrust in the entire Albertan health care system.

But, whose fault is it? Are these lengthy ER wait times because of people who should go to a clinic instead? What is the reason behind the scarce doctor availability? Is it the United Conservative Party (UCP) government’s fault, due to an inability to allocate the funding towards proper methods of fixing the health care system?

The fact of the matter is health care in Alberta is declining in quality and accessibility, and there are hesitancies about who is at fault. It’s important to spark conversations about who is responsible — after all, Albertans are the ones who end up suffering. Despite debate, the problem lies within the government.

A solution should not fall on patients or individual doctors. Instead, it’s on the governing body to provide effective and lasting solutions. Methods such as increasing staff in health care facilities across the province is just one solution to a huge problem, but it’s just the start to ultimately fixing things.

It has become nearly impossible to find a primary care physician here in Alberta. The demand for physicians is high, but the availability of doctors is dwindling. This low doctor availability puts patient’s preferences on the back-burner.

If people want a female doctor, or one that specializes in certain practices, there is no guarantee they can find one that meets the criteria. If they’re lucky to find one at all. This decline in health care accessibility is an arising problem that many Albertans are not equipped to handle. 

A decrease in doctor availability could lead to Albertans choosing not to seek out proper care. If Albertans do not have a primary care physician they can go to, then their overall health is compromised — and not by their own volition.

People should have the ability to be picky. Health care is not a one-size-fits-all system. Albertans should be able to seek doctors that are the perfect fit for them. However, since it is practically impossible to get a primary care physician, Albertans end up with the bare minimum: walk-in clinic doctors, or whoever becomes available first.

We deserve better. Having to wait 36 hours or more for an emergency is absurd. As well, hunting relentlessly for a doctor should not be normalized.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, health care systems across the world collapsed. The strain on the system was at an unprecedented volume. Yet, after more than three years since the start of the pandemic, Alberta’s health care system has not recovered. In fact, it has become noticeably fatigued. During the height of the pandemic it became clear that the health care system was in dire need of support. Even though we now live in a ‘post-pandemic’ world, the healthcare system is still on the brink of a collapse. Unfortunately, with no help in sight. 

The issue of limited doctors in Alberta and the staggering wait times in emergency rooms is astounding. Albertans’ access to well-rounded health care should not suffer from something so fixable.

In a press release, Minister of Health Adriana LaGrange said the UCP is committing “$2 billion towards primary health care in Budget 2023.” The original release of Budget 2023 committed $125 million as an initial investment for primary health care. The provincial government is trying to fix the issue of staggering wait times and limited doctors. However, these promises are ambiguous.

The UCP seems to understand that they must allocate the proper funds to what matters most. However, the promises made by the UCP has some Albertan health care workers skeptical. While the UCP increased the budget for health care spending, the main issue is staffing. Without a sufficient number of doctors, nurses, and other health care workers, it doesn’t matter what new equipment the facilities have. It all comes down to people. 

Albertans should not have to wait so long to receive medical care, in the ER or otherwise. In fact, they shouldn’t be without a primary care physician at all. It is up to the government to allot the proper funding and resources towards staffing and other resourceful measures, not Albertans themselves. After all, health care is much more than just a basic human right. 

The way things are going right now, Albertans aren’t just lacking exemplary health care — they barely have access to any at all.

Brooklyn Hollinger

Brooklyn is the 2023-24 Deputy Opinion Editor. She is a Classics major and Creative Writing Minor. She is a lover of fantasy books, peach iced tea, and can usually be found obsessing over pictures of her dog Zoey.

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