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Nurse practitioners to open clinics as part of Alberta plan to address doctor shortage

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New publicly-funded health clinics run by nurse practitioners will start popping up across Alberta early next year.

To help with the province's doctor shortage, the UCP government will spend $2 million over three years to recruit, prepare and support nurse practitioners to set up their own clinics, it announced on Wednesday.

"Nurse practitioners are highly trained and valued medical professionals. By enabling them to open their own clinics, we are ensuring Albertans can more easily access the care they need," Premier Danielle Smith said.

"Through the new model, Alberta Health will compensate nurse practitioners who want to practice independently, take on patients and also offer services that reflect the full extent of their training, skills and experience."

The compensation model is still being finalized, but it will apply to nurse practitioners who are willing to take on a certain number of patients.

There are currently 853 nurse practitioners registered in Alberta.

"We can assess, diagnose, order and interpret tests, prescribe any medication and manage both wellness and disease," said Susan Prendergast, president of the Nurse Practitioner Association of Alberta.

The president of the Alberta Medical Association says he can't criticize adding more resources, but that this move missed the mark.

"I think the most critical piece of this is what we need is more integration, bigger teams that work together better," Dr. Paul Parks said.

Critics say there are more than 700,000 Albertans without a family doctor.

"People are waiting in emergency rooms, urgent care centres, they're waiting for referrals," Friends of Medicare Executive Director Chris Gallaway said. "There's all these pieces that are backlogged through the system and a small tweak to nurse practitioners isn't going to address the bigger staffing that we're in."

NDP Health Critic David Shepherd said health practitioners will help but questioned the overall health strategy.

Clinics could be up and running as soon as January. 

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