The territory has more doctors, more costs

The Yukon is recruiting and retaining more doctors. The territory has seen a 5.6 per cent increase in the number of doctors practising here, bringing the total to 76 from 72 between 2007 to 2008.

The Yukon is recruiting and retaining more doctors.

The territory has seen a 5.6 per cent increase in the number of doctors practising here, bringing the total to 76 from 72 between 2007 to 2008.

This is according to a report released by the Canadian Institute of Health Information on Thursday, which outlines the supply and distribution of doctors around the country.

“In Whitehorse, our numbers are pretty good – they’re what we would consider sustainable,” said Yukon Medical Association president, Rao Tadepalli.

However, the numbers aren’t as healthy for smaller Yukon communities, like Watson Lake and Dawson, he said.

The physician workforce in the Yukon reflects what is happening elsewhere in Canada where there is a bulk of aging doctors moving through the medical system.

“Yes, the situation could change if a few docs retire,” he said.

In 2008, 43 per cent of the territory’s doctors were over the age of 50.

“Having said that, the aging physicians are also continuing to work longer, so there’s a lot of workforce available even if it’s not the full scope of practice,” Tadepalli said.

There were eight specialists in the territory as of 2008, including three general surgeons, two obstetricians/gynecologists, a psychologist, an anesthesiologist and a geriatric specialist.

Across Canada, the supply of doctors has increased, but only by 2.8 per cent since 2007.

However, the rising number of doctors has come at a price.

Health-care costs are continuing to rise in the territory and throughout the country, according to another Canadian Institute of Health report released last week.

The Yukon is forecast to spend $8,013.13 in health-care spending per capita in 2009, an increase of 5.6 per cent from the year before.

Nationally, Canadians will spend $5,452.37 per capita on health in 2009.

The large discrepancy between costs in the Yukon and the rest of Canada is largely because of how remote we are, said Tadepalli.

We spend a lot accessing services that don’t exist here, he said.

“You can’t compare figures here to those down south.”

That means lots of money is spent flying people south for procedures that can’t be performed in the Yukon.

The system isn’t “sustainable” because of the increasing strain placed on it by an aging population, he said.

“Up to 50 per cent of (the Yukon government’s budget) is spent on health care each year. So, no, it’s not sustainable by any means.”

He expects user fees will likely be introduced in the territory in the near future to offset rising health-care costs.

“User fees are the norm elsewhere,” Tadepalli said.

“I think privatization of health care will come in at some stage.”

Asked to clarify, he simply referred all questions to Health Department officials, noting a report on the health-care system is due to be released in the new year.

Contact Vivian Belik at

vivianb@yukon-news.com