The NDP wants physicians’ assistants (PAs) to be able to work in the Yukon, and has convinced both other parties to get on board with the idea.
“I am hopeful that this government will work toward finding the best way to make this happen here in the territory,” NDP MLA Annie Blake told the legislature last Wednesday.
Every other Wednesday, opposition parties get a chance to set the agenda in the legislature.
The NDP used the opportunity to introduce a motion calling on the government to create legislation to allow physician’s assistants to operate in the territory.
The motion received unanimous support.
Legislation would still need to be passed to actually allow PAs to practice in the Yukon, but this is an acknowledgement by all parties that they support the idea.
Physician’s assistants are a relatively new designation in Canada, but since they were first introduced in 1999 in Manitoba, they have caught on in many provinces.
Their scope of practice is a bit more limited than doctors’.
According to the Canadian Association of Physician’s Assistants (CAPA), they can tackle many of the same tasks.
Those include prescribing drugs, ordering tests, formulating treatment plans and assisting in surgeries.
“They reduce the burden on overworked doctors, reduce wait times, and improve access to essential medical care,” Blake said.
This means doctors can focus on more specialized care and their patient lists could potentially be expanded by between 500 and 900 patients.
“This would remove a lot of people from the family doctor wait-list,” she said.
The physician’s assistant designation grew out of a desire to integrate military medics into the civilian medical system in the United States in the 1960s, according to CAPA.
They are now allowed to practise in much of Canada, though in some provinces they are still working through pilot projects while permanent legislation is drawn up.
Health Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee gave a bit of a rundown of what these practitioners can do, explaining that they are not independent operators, but are attached to a physician who determines what they can and cannot do.
“The scope of their practice is defined by that individual physician,” she told the legislature.
She contrasted this with nurse practitioners, who, she said, are in high demand in the Yukon because they can practise independently of a doctor.
She also said programs allowing for physician’s assistants are still being evaluated and it’s currently unknown what exactly their impact would be for the health system in the Yukon.
“They are looking at the impact that the physician assistants have on access to health care, on wait times, on the quality of care, and on patient and provider satisfaction,” she said.
The Yukon Party also sup-ported this motion, but MLA Brad Cathers added in a bit about consulting the Yukon Medical Association and the Yukon Registered Nurses Association on any potential new legislation.
In summarizing the government’s position on the motion before the final vote, Community Services Minister Richard Mostyn said it is important to allow any changes to be fully analyzed and fit properly into the legal framework before regulations are altered.
“It’s going to take a little bit of work,” he said.