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Friday, 29 September 2017 12:56

Physicians meet with SMA leaders during annual tour stop in Swift Current

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SMA leaders visited Swift Current during their annual tour around the province, Sept. 19. From left to right, SMA Vice-President Dr. Siva Karunakaran, SMA President Dr. Joanne Sivertson, and Cypress Regional Medical Association President Dr. Kevin Wasko. SMA leaders visited Swift Current during their annual tour around the province, Sept. 19. From left to right, SMA Vice-President Dr. Siva Karunakaran, SMA President Dr. Joanne Sivertson, and Cypress Regional Medical Association President Dr. Kevin Wasko. Contributed

The leadership of the Saskatchewan Medical Association (SMA) held a meeting with physicians in the Cypress Health Region during an event in Swift Current, Sept. 19.


The supper meeting at the Lyric Theatre was the fifth stop of the SMA leaders during their 11-stop tour across the province to provide updates on different issues and to discuss the SMA's strategic planning process with physicians. The leaders tour started in Saskatoon on Sept. 5 and will conclude in La Ronge on Oct. 12. SMA President Dr. Joanne Sivertson and Vice-President Dr. Siva Karunakaran will share the responsibilities of the tour, but both of them were present in Swift Current.
The meeting was not open to the media, but Dr. Karunakaran and Dr. Kevin Wasko, the current president of the Cypress Regional Medical Association, spoke to the media before the start of the event.
Dr. Karunakaran said the SMA leadership tour is an annual event in the fall that has been taking place for many years.
“The president and the vice-president go to all the regions and speak to the members about what we are doing and we listen to the members,” he mentioned. “What we have been hearing from the members is their concerns about the amalgamation of the health regions and then the proposed federal tax changes, and also the negotiations that has been happening with the government.”
In January, the provincial government accepted the recommendations of the Saskatchewan Advisory Panel on Health System Structure and started the process to consolidate the 12 existing regional health authorities into a single provincial health authority. The SMA met with the three-member advisory panel, but did not advocate for a specific number of health regions.
“What we advocated for was to create a patient centred integrated health care system where we can deliver efficient health care to the patients and we also advocated to have physician leadership in management,” he said. “So that is what we are looking for.”
The transition to the single provincial health authority is still taking place and it is not yet possible to evaluate the effect of the transition process on quality of care.
“The details are still being worked out,” he said. “So we don’t know how it’s going to evolve, but we’ll be watching closely and we’ll follow the developments. We also have the Physician Advisory Network that advises the transition team, and depending on what happens we will advocate on behalf of our patients.”
The Physician Advisory Network is a group of physicians that will make recommendations on physician services and governance to the provincial transition team. Dr. Wasko, who is one of the co-leads for the Physician Advisory Network, said there are some concerns over the change to a much larger, single health authority, but there are also potential opportunities.
“There’s the ability to have provincial standards, clinical practice standards to ensure that a quality of care that exists in one place in the province should exist everywhere, and that whether you are someone showing up to Estevan or Swift Current or to RUH in Saskatoon there is a basic expectation of good quality care,” he explained. “I think that having one region, one consistent set of standards, helps to facilitate that.”
Physicians might see a change in their reporting structures as a result of the move to a single health authority, but they will continue to care for patients.
“It shouldn’t change day-to-day clinical care and the work that they provide to patients that much, but it’s still an uncertainty,” he said.
Another uncertainty for physicians at the moment is the outcome of negotiations between the SMA and the provincial government on a new agreement.
“Our contract with the government is up and negotiations are currently underway to negotiate where we go over the next number of years with the pay structure,” he said. “The provincial government has included physicians along with all provincial employees, saying that they expect a 3.5 per cent fee cut. So that is very concerning for physicians.”
Dr. Wasko felt there is another issue at the moment that is of even greater concern to physicians in the province than the change to a single health authority.
“I think right now if you were to speak to an average physician, they would be much more concerned about the federal government’s changes to small business tax structures and the rules surrounding that than they are about the redistribution of administration around the province,” he said.
He noted that most physicians in Saskatchewan are incorporated, and the proposed tax changes will have an impact on them.
“I am incorporated, as are most of my colleagues in the province,” he said. “So physicians are small business people. We run clinics, which employ staff. We buy supplies and purchase necessary equipment to run our businesses successfully. So the ability to function as a business and how we manage for our savings and contingency funds for say women physicians, who need to take a maternity leave, that’s all at stake right now and it’s very concerning to physicians.”
According to Dr. Karunakaran about 1,800 physicians in Saskatchewan are incorporated, but some of them are retired.
“We estimate about 70 to 80 per cent of the practising physicians are incorporated,” he said. “So our position is that we need to support our members and we’re worried about how this is going to affect how they practise and their retirement savings. We have been lobbying the provincial government about our concerns and our members have also contacted their individual MPs and written to them.”
He did not think the concern of physician about the proposed tax changes might be seen as a reluctance to pay the same tax rate as those who are not incorporated.
“This provision was given to physicians many, many years ago in various provinces,” he said. “In some provinces like Ontario this was given in lieu of pay raise and physicians were encouraged to incorporate so that they can get protection in terms of risks they were taking, like hiring personnel, and we don’t have maternity protection, sick leave protection or retirement. So that is what we are advocating for and I know there are people that are saying physicians and other groups are tax cheats. We don’t see it that way. These were not loopholes. These were given to us legally to use so that we can deliver better care.”

Read 389 times Last modified on Friday, 29 September 2017 22:28
Matthew Liebenberg

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