NDP promises to use tax credits to cover med school

The NDP says it will cover the cost of tuition for Yukon students who become doctors and nurses and then come home.

The NDP says it will cover the cost of tuition for Yukon students who become doctors and nurses and then come home.

Leader Liz Hanson made the announcement Thursday. Under the NDP plan, newly-minted doctors and nurses would get tax credits for each year they work in the territory to pay back what they spent on tuition.

“If you’re a Yukoner who has the grades and the drive to study medicine we want you to come home when you’re done,” Hanson said.

“We need you to build your future here and we will help you do that.”

The campaign promise is to help doctors, community nurses and nurse practitioners, but Hanson said she’s willing to discuss expanding the program to cover other medical professionals.

The money wouldn’t come in one lump sum. It would be handed out in capped tax credits every year.

The NDP has earmarked $500,000 to start the program. The party hasn’t worked out how much the annual cap on the tax credit would be, Hanson said.

“I would not trust having a politician doing the tax credit calculations. I would suggest finance officials and the tax lawyers are the ones we should be consulting.”

The number of family doctors in the territory has been a hot topic for years. So have staffing issues at the territory’s hospital and other medical facilities.

In 2013 the health department put together a doctorless patient registry which found at least 1,500 Yukoners did not have a family doctor.

It’s unclear what that number would look like today. There is no mechanism for people to be taken off the 2013 list if they end up finding a doctor.

Family doctors are recruited to the territory by the Yukon Medical Association. Other doctors, such as specialists or those who work in continuing care, are recruited by the health department. Recruiting nurses is also the health department’s responsibility.

Scott Wilson, a retired family physician and administrator for the Yukon Medical Association, works on recruiting by answering questions from potential new doctors and travelling to national recruiting events twice a year.

Since 2011, the territory has seen a net gain of 16 family doctors, he said.

Wilson would not comment on the NDP’s platform point specifically.

He said there is no easy way to calculate how many family doctors the territory requires.

Calls to the health department asking about vacancies were not returned by press time.

The health department has a funding agreement with the Yukon Medical Association that includes a number of perks for doctors willing to work in the North.

Recent graduates who now have their medical certificate and sign a five-year agreement with the territory receive between $100,000 and $150,000 over those five years to help cover student loans.

Doctors can also apply for other pots of money including cash to cover moving expenses or to set up offices.

According to the Yukon Hospital Corporation, the Yukon’s three hospitals have six vacancies for full-time registered nurses, and one for a part-time position. There is also one vacant licensed practical nurse position.

The hospitals have 132 nurses, about 25 per cent of total staff, said spokesperson James Low.

“Generally speaking, positions are filled in less than two months,” Low said in an email.

“For example, last year 97 per cent of positions were filled in less than two months. At the moment, we are trending the same for 2016/17.”

The NDP’s medical school announcement was not the only health related announcement this week.

On Wednesday the Yukon Party promised, if re-elected, to cut wait times for the territory’s one MRI in half.

Wait times can currently be up to six months, said Mike Nixon, the health minister and the Yukon Party’s candidate in Porter Creek South.

Right now there are no radiologists in the territory, so results have to be sent south to have their results interpreted, he said.

“So if we can turn that around quicker then we can get people in for MRIs quicker.”

The party is committed to spending an extra $200,000 on the Outside service that interprets MRIs.

On top of that, Nixon said a re-elected Yukon Party government would expand the room at Whitehorse General Hospital where people currently receive chemotherapy.

The hospital is in the middle of a large expansion and once that is completed in a few years there will be space for a larger chemo room, Nixon said.

Yukoners go to the polls Nov. 7.

Contact Ashley Joannou at ashleyj@yukon-news.com