Doctor shortage makes health top election issue

by Michelle Lang
http://www.canada.com

When Arpana Singh needs to see a doctor, she braces herself for an epic wait.

The 23-year-old, who moved from Edmonton to Calgary last year, doesn’t have a family physician. She relies instead on a downtown walk-in clinic when she needs medical attention.

But service at the clinic is hardly speedy, the result of a perpetually packed waiting room.

When Arpana Singh needs to see a doctor, she braces herself for an epic wait.

The 23-year-old, who moved from Edmonton to Calgary last year, doesn’t have a family physician. She relies instead on a downtown walk-in clinic when she needs medical attention.

But service at the clinic is hardly speedy, the result of a perpetually packed waiting room.

Despite the problems facing Alberta’s medical system — and the importance voters place on it — observers note health care hasn’t yet sparked any major debates in the campaign.

Perhaps the biggest health-care controversy so far occurred when Stelmach promised to graduate an additional 225 doctors annually over the next four years — a plan physicians’ groups said wasn’t possible because of capacity constraints. Stelmach later revised the announcement to say a Tory government would qualify that many doctors, including luring some back from overseas and accrediting foreign physicians.

David Taras, a political analyst with the University of Calgary, said the gaffe placed Stelmach in a vulnerable position because the other parties could have attacked his message that the Tory government has a plan.

The misstep never became a major issue, he said, largely because the other parties didn’t pounce on it.

“It went to the heart of his image,” says Taras. “But the opposition parties didn’t capitalize on it. They allowed that one to slide by.”

The University of Lethbridge’s McCormick doubts the medical system will become the single-defining issue of the campaign because the parties don’t have health-care platforms that significantly differ from each other.

“Health care is no longer a reason for voting for one party over the other, because no one thinks any one party can fix it,” said McCormick.

But Taras argued opposition parties could still make health care a major issue by mounting a concerted attack on the Tories’ record in the crucial second half of the campaign.

“Health care remains No. 1 on the Richter scale,” said Taras. “It’s the standard on which government is judged.”

Editor’s Note: This article was originally located at canada.com, but it is no longer there. We will keep it on Cunningham Group’s website for archiving reasons.