The province has announced that nurse practitioners will be allowed to open their own clinics as well as take on patients and offer services, 'based on their scope of practice, training and expertise,' as a way to try and bridge the gap in primary care due to a shortage of family physicians.

According to the province, a new compensation model will be created to encourage nurse practitioners to operate independently, adding capacity to Alberta’s primary care system.

The new compensation model will be phased in and is expected to launch in early 2024 when nurse practitioners who want to go into independent practice will be asked to submit expressions of interest. The model is expected to include payment for a specified number of clinical hours and other commitments, such as caring for a certain number of patients.

"Typically nurse practitioners can provide about 80 per cent of the medical services a family physician provides, and this will be reflected in the compensation model when it’s finalized," the province stated in a news release.

Nurse practitioners are extensively trained in their graduate studies to assess, diagnose, treat, order and interpret diagnostic tests, prescribe medications, make referrals to a specialist and manage a person’s overall care.

In addition, through a $2-million grant over the next three years, the Nurse Practitioner Association of Alberta will help to implement a compensation model, recruit other nurse practitioners to participate and provide support as they work to set up their own clinics.

Susan Prendergast, The President of the Nurse Practitioner Association of Alberta said that with this announcement the association will be, 'perfectly positioned to ensure that their members will be fully prepared to meet the needs of Albertans in both urban and rural communities.'

"Until now, accessing a nurse practitioner has been challenging. This announcement ends those challenges. The NPAA looks forward to working with Alberta Health to get clinics open and to support NPs in being able to do the work that they are trained to do.” 

The province added that nurse practitioners who opt into the compensation model will also qualify for caseload support once their patient caseloads are established, as announced previously.

"The three-year $57-million support program will help primary health care providers manage an increasing number of patients. Each provider has the potential to receive up to $10,000 annually."

According to Martin Long, the Parliamentary Secretary for Rural Health, the new model will address the shortage of healthcare professionals in rural communities.

"The new nurse practitioner model actively addresses this need by enhancing and expanding rural health care deliveries. This new initiative will enable rural Albertans to have better access to primary health care close to home," Long said. 

However, both the NDP and The Alberta Medical Association were critical of the announcement. David Shepherd, the Alberta NDP Health Critic for Primary & Rural Care said in his statement that the announcement would do, 'nothing that will help any primary care professional serve a single more Albertan any time soon.'

“At a time when other provinces have taken substantial action, Danielle Smith and Minister LaGrange have done next to nothing to support family doctors currently in the province, and have failed at attracting new physicians here," Shepherd added. “And now the UCP has indicated that the paltry funding they announced last month will be split further, effectively giving less to both family doctors and nurse practitioners. Once again, frontline healthcare workers are being asked to do more for less."

The Alberta Medical Association, which describes itself as a 'not-for-profit, voluntary member association of Alberta’s physicians' also voiced concern over the announcement.

"Building capacity is good if it doesn’t simply create new problems as today’s announcement re independent nurse practitioners does. A family doctor’s expertise lies in cradle-to-grave care. We love integrated team-based care, but the best medical advice is often only from a physician. And there are not enough people to fill open jobs right now. We know that today's announcement made many family medicine specialists feel less valued," the organization stated on their Facebook page.

The statement underlined that they want the province to focus on family physicians and rural generalists.

According to Alberta Health Services (AHS), there are over 400 nurse practitioners registered with AHS, however, province-wide there are well over 800 nurse practitioners. 

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