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Health Minister insists the government is working to address doctor shortage

“The pandemic has significantly impacted our ability to recruit nurses, physicians, and other health care providers.”
Health Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee stands in the legislature to answer questions on Oct. 14. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)

Opposition MLAs used their time in question period for the past week to raise concerns about a lack of healthcare access in the territory.

Health Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee faced several questions on doctor shortages, including the lack of family doctors since the walk-in clinic stopped taking new patients and a year-long waitlist for OB/GYN specialists.

“Family doctors don’t feel supported by this Liberal government, and there is growing uncertainty about what family medicine in the Yukon will look like, going forward,” said Yukon Party MLA Brad Cathers on Oct. 28.

Whitehorse’s only walk-in clinic stopped accepting new patients in August, when one of the physicians at the clinic moved away. Right now the only option for general care for the thousands of Yukoners without a family doctor is the emergency department.

“The pandemic has significantly impacted our ability to recruit nurses, physicians, and other health care providers. This is the case nationally and globally. That is not an excuse; that is a fact,” said McPhee, who said the government continues to work with the Yukon Medical Association on physician recruitment.

McPhee said right now the department is trying to contract nurse practitioners to serve existing clinics and is considering working with recruiters to identify physicians. She also said “work is underway” to expand virtual physician services.

The Yukon Party has called on the government to reinstate a physician recruitment officer.

She said the department is discussing the possibility of a recruitment coordinator in partnership with the Yukon Medical Association. On Nov. 2 McPhee told the house that the recruitment officer position existed in 2013 and 2015 and the Liberal government is “exploring returning that.”

“Physician practices are private businesses that oversee their own recruitment and locum coverage. We endeavour to support them during that process by the incentives — financial and otherwise — of living here and working here in the territory,” she said.

Family doctors aren’t the only shortage McPhee was questioned on in the house – Yukon Party MLA Yvonne Clarke has also raised concerns about limited obstetric and gynecological care for the past week.

Clarke raised the concern that of the two gynecology doctors in the territory, one is currently on leave and waitlists for OB/GYN care are a year long.

“This means that if that single doctor gets sick or hurt — or even a test for COVID — then there will be no capacity for C-sections or other emergency pregnancy procedures. This is not sustainable. Will the minister agree to expanding or enhancing the OB/GYN program in Yukon to ensure that we are not faced with a situation like we are in now?” she asked McPhee during question period on Nov. 1.

“We have lots of options with respect to providing service to Yukoners and to Yukon women who might need those services,” responded McPhee, noting that the government is in the process of regulating midwifery.

“We will continue to fill vacancies with locum doctors and nurses,” she said.

Contact Haley Ritchie at