Alberta gives contract termination notice to radiology providers amid COVID-19 pandemic

Alberta has given contract termination notice to major radiology providers in the province, prompting criticism over the timing of the move, which comes amid the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Alberta Health Services confirmed in a tweet that it gave the notice “last week” to radiology providers in Calgary and Edmonton, saying it was acting “at the direction of the minister of health.”

The one-year-notice clause in the existing contracts mean they will be terminated in March 2021.

The contracts will be tendered within the year, according to AHS, which expects the move will save money.

“Savings will go to provide additional scans for patients,” it said in a tweet Monday afternoon.

CBC News contacted Health Minister Tyler Shandro’s press secretary Monday morning for comment about the contract terminations but has yet to receive a reply.

‘This is not the right time’

Dr. Ernst Schuster, president of the Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association, described the province’s move as “yet another measure at the most inopportune time” in the Alberta government’s interaction with doctors.

Last week, hundreds of Alberta doctors signed onto a letter urging the provincial government to pause or rescind its plans to make sweeping changes to doctors’ compensation, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is not the time when you should start cancelling contracts with the medical profession,” Schuster said in an interview Monday. “This is not the right time to do it.”

On Monday, the Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians said “Canada sits on the precipice of a potential public health disaster,” as cases of COVID-19 continue to spread.

Schuster said physicians of all types are already on the front lines of the pandemic response and cancelling contracts at this point only adds more uncertainty at an already uncertain time.

“We are sticking our neck out. We are endangering ourselves and our families and we really need to be acknowledged as a valuable resource,” he said.

“I would endorse fair bargaining, as we have always done in the past,” he added. “But don’t just cancel contracts on us in the midst of a pandemic. That just doesn’t seem right.”

CBC News has also requested comment from the Alberta Society of Radiologists, who expect to provide an interview early Monday evening. This story will be updated.  

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