Friends of Medicare applauds the undertaking of a full financial review of the Primary Care Networks prior to any further financial and funding decisions being made.
"This is a great step towards fiscal responsibility, accountability, and stewardship over how our health dollars are being spent by these 42 PCNs," indicates Sandra Azocar, Executive Director of Friends of Medicare.
In 2003, Alberta Health and Wellness, the Alberta Medical Association, and Alberta's regional Health Authorities (now Alberta Health Services) established the Primary Care Initiative to improve access to family physicians and other front-line health care services and providers in Alberta. The result of the Primary Care Initiative was the development of Primary Care Networks (PCNs). These began operating in Alberta in 2005, and there are currently 42 PCNs operating throughout the province, with more than 3,300 registered family physicians, supplemented by more than 1,100 other health practitioners. It is estimated that 80% of Albertans are registered to a PCN, yet there is no indication that all patients are aware of their registration.
"Since the inception of the PCN program in 2003, Albertans have been asked to accept these primary care initiatives on faith alone, without any public evaluation," said Azocar.
In July 2012, Auditor General Merwan Saher affirmed that Alberta Health and Alberta Health Services did not have systems in place to evaluate the PCN program. He was extremely critical of the lack of accountability for the more than $700 million that had been spent on PCNs since 2005. Since then, Alberta's 42 PCNs have been sharing around $200 million in provincial funding per year, though not all of it has been used. It has been reported that the networks had approximately $120 million in combined reserves as of last year, with other estimations indicating that this sum has since been reduced to between $90 million and $100 million.
Investment in primary care is essential if we hope to improve the overall health of Albertans while at the same time dealing with capacity issues in our healthcare system, but we also need clear objectives and outcomes where there is public investment.
"Albertans want to see an improvement in the access, timeliness, and quality of their primary care, but we need to ensure that PCNs are the best way to achieve these goals before we continue to expand them," concluded Azocar.
We encourage Minister of Health Sarah Hoffman and Alberta Health Services to make the outcome of this review and evaluation public.
For more information of the Auditor General's Report: http://www.oag.ab.ca/webfiles/reports/OAGJuly2012report.pdf