Canadian health ministers have green-lit a new cross-Canada licensing system for health-care workers that will allow doctors or nurses in B.C. to work in any other province or territory.
It’s one of the major commitments coming out of the two-day meeting of Canada’s health ministers in Charlottetown, P.E.I., that wrapped up Thursday.
B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix, speaking to reporters by Zoom from Charlottetown, said it could be key to addressing the health-care shortage while also promising that B.C.’s strategy isn’t to poach health workers from other parts of Canada.
“These arrangements are going to help B.C. because I think people want to come here,” said Dix, pointing to the new compensation agreement for family doctors reached with the province last year that makes them among the highest paid in Canada.
“We’re recruiting most effectively by the reforms we’re making in our health-care system, the change in the way that we pay doctors,” he said. “The way that we fund and support primary care has been a huge attraction to doctors to go into primary care.”
Dix said more than 80 per cent of medical graduates trained in B.C. stay in the province, with just eight per cent opting to work in neighbouring Alberta. By contrast, only 60 per cent of medical graduates trained in Alberta stay in that province with 20 per cent coming to B.C., he said.
However, Dix stressed that none of the provinces are looking to boost their ranks by taking health-care workers from other jurisdictions.
Federal Health Minister Mark Holland said Ottawa will work to get the national licensing system for doctors up-and-running by this year and will focus on nurses next year.
However, a footnote in a federal news release Thursday says Quebec hasn’t signed on to any of the health-care strategies because it “remains fully committed to exercise its own responsibilities within its exclusive jurisdiction over health care.”
The Atlantic provinces already have a regional licensing regime that allows doctors to work across all four provinces.
Dr. Kathleen Ross, president of the Canadian Medical Association, said having a more flexible licensing regime will benefit rural and remote areas of the country where it’s more difficult to recruit locums to provide emergency relief or cover for a physician on parental leave.
“It’s a great commitment,” Ross said, noting it’s something the association has been calling for for years.
“I can’t emphasize enough how much that’s going to ease the burden on those health-care workers that are willing to go and provide locum relief or emergency relief or educational or maternity relief to those health-care workers in areas that are otherwise hard to staff,” said Ross, a family physician in Coquitlam and New Westminster.
It could also benefit areas close to provincial and territorial borders, Ross said, giving doctors the ability to see patients on both sides of the border.
Ross said it’s still unclear if there are plans to create a new national licensing body for physicians and nurses or standardize the licensing rules of the various provincial and territorial licensing agencies — the College of Physicians and Surgeons of B.C., for example — so they’re using similar benchmarks.
Asked about the risks that some health-care workers could be poached by richer provinces, Ross said: “I hope that it actually pushes us more towards standardization of workplace supports and compensation across the country.”
Dix said health ministers were unanimous in their opposition to a proposal by the College of Family Physicians of Canada to increase the family medicine residency from two years to three. The college has said it could better prepare doctors for more complex patients but Dix said it could exacerbate an already dire shortage of doctors.
“I don’t think this is the time for that proposal,” Dix said, and it’s “inconsistent” with the actions taken by provinces and territories to recruit more doctors.
Ottawa will also reduce the time it takes for internationally educated health professionals to become licensed in Canada, Holland said, by speeding up the credentialing process and allowing them to begin that process overseas.
B.C. became the first province Tuesday to formally sign a bilateral deal with Ottawa for $1.2 billion over three years in health-care cash, which will help recruit more nurses, reduce waiting times for diagnostic imaging and medical treatments, and boost mental-health and addiction support.
Quebec hasn’t signed a health funding deal with the federal government because it objects to the strings Ottawa has attached to the money.
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