Alberta’s health ministry has offered a lifeline to people in rural and remote communities who need timely access to primary care services.

The ministry said it will spend $3 million to hire up to 30 new nurse practitioners in towns were many people don’t have or cannot access a family doctor.

Nurse practitioners receive advanced training so they can diagnose patients, perform annual checkups, order tests and prescribe medication.

Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro called the hiring a “major step forward” for health care in rural Alberta.

“They can help people with a wide range of care, including managing complex and chronic health care needs,” he said in a news conference.

There are already around 600 nurse practitioners working in Alberta, but most work in hospitals or outpatient clinics while only about 50 work in primary care.

The new nurse practitioners will be hired across all five Alberta Health Services zones, many working with patients in underserved communities.

“In Northern Alberta, nurse practitioners will provide health care services to Indigenous people and many treating First Nations and Metis settlements.”

Some will work weekends and evenings when clinics are typically closed.

The announcement was hailed as a timely one by the Nurse Practitioner Association of Alberta.

“This program is allowing NPs to step into responsible roles rather than necessarily just a support role and to expand that access to care,” said spokesperson and nurse practitioner Anne Summach.

Shandro said applications for the nurse practitioner positions have already been approved and it’s now up to Primary Care Networks to recruit them. Recruitment will take place in the following communities:

  • Aspen Primary Care Network in northern Alberta
  • Bow Valley Primary Care Network (Banff, Canmore and Lake Louise)
  • Bonnyville Primary Care Network
  • Edmonton Southside Primary Care Network
  • Sherwood Park-Strathcona County Primary Care Network