The Alberta election campaign begins. The NDP kick it off with their policy on what will no doubt be their, if not the entire campaign’s, major focus—health care. Their proposed plan prompts feelings of déjà vu in those of us with long memories.
The heart of their plan is Family Health Teams. According to the party, “Family Health Teams mean you have access to a doctor who works closely with other professionals like nurse practitioners, Registered and Licensed Practical Nurses, mental health therapists, pharmacists, social workers, dietitians, community paramedics, community health navigators, physiotherapists, midwives, speech language therapists, and more.”
The NDP promise to expand current clinics and establish new clinics in high-demand areas as needed, ensuring that among other things “within ten years, up to one million more Albertans will have access to a doctor within a day or two.” The promise to doctors is less paperwork and more doctoring. The plan, they say, will “transform family medicine.”
The use of interprofessional group practices seems simple common sense. Yet at one time it was the source of one of Canada’s most infamous strikes—the Saskatchewan doctors’s strike of 1962.
Medicare was introduced in Saskatchewan that year by the CCF government under Woodrow Lloyd. Doctors and their many supporters were outraged. Doctors saw their autonomy threatened both clinically and professionally. They would become mere employees and the doctor-patient relationship would be undermined. One grievance of “socialized medicine” was the proposed creation of community team clinics.
When the Saskatchewan Medical Care Insurance Act came into force on July 1st, 1962, 90 percent of doctors closed their offices and some left the province for good. In reply, the province brought doctors from Britain and encouraged others to come from the U.S. and other parts of the country. After 23 hectic days the strike ended with the negotiation of the “Saskatoon Agreement.” The province made various concessions including allowing doctors to opt out of the plan.
The strike challenged Medicare and Medicare won. Within a decade the Saskatchewan model was adopted across the country.
The strike contributed to the Lloyd government’s loss in the next election, but Medicare proved so popular the incoming Liberals not only left it in place, but expanded it. By that time, most doctors were also supporters. However, the idea of community team clinics had been lost.
Now it has been revived by the Alberta NDP. It was a sound idea then and it remains so today. They provide an opportunity for not only ensuring every person has a family doctor but ensuring they get the comprehensive care they need in the most efficient way. And they offer an opportunity to those doctors who just want to do the job they were trained for and leave running a business to others.
They may just provide a large part of the answer to our health care problems. And in this case, they have confirmed my choice in the upcoming May election.