Lethbridge doctors at lowest level in 4 years

During the first quarter of 2022, Lethbridge saw its only year-over-year first quarter loss since at least 2016.

Last month, I wrote a news story about the number of registered physicians in Alberta.

I decided to go through the physician registrations from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta to see what information I could find about doctors in the region specifically, rather than the province as a whole.

First, here’s the number of registrations per year for each of the health zones since 2016. Keep in mind that the 2022 numbers are for just one quarter, and they may change throughout the rest of the year.

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Registration Statistics, 2020–2016, CPSA

There’s some interesting data in there.

Every health zone saw a drop in the number of registered physicians in the that zone.

Now, to be fair, the first quarter always sees a drop after the fourth quarter, so the fact that every health zone had fewer registered physicians shouldn’t be that surprising.

What we need to examine is what that drop looked like compared to previous drops.

As well, the data shows that 2019 saw increases over 2018, so 2022 registrations were still higher than 2018 registrations in most zones, even with the drop from 2019 numbers.

That being said, these should be taken in context. Here’s how much different the 2022 numbers are to the 2018 numbers.

% change
(2022 vs 2018)

What we see here is that when compared to the 2018 registration numbers, the South Zone is the only zone that has seen a decrease in registrations. In fact, the South Zone has only 6 more registrations than it had at the end of 2016. And that’s for the entire health zone, not just Lethbridge.

Not only that, but at the end of the first quarter of 2022, the number of physicians registered in the South Zone made up 5.19% of all registrations in the province. Last year, it was 5.29%, and the previous year, it was 5.46% of all registrations. It was 5.76% in 2019 and 5.65% in 2018. This is the lowest percentage the South Zone has seen since at least 2016.

Now, let’s look at Lethbridge physicians specifically. Below is the number of registrations for each quarter since 2016, as well as the quarter-over-quarter percent change.

QuarterRegistrations% change
2022 Q1276-4.50%
2021 Q4289-2.69%
2021 Q32971.71%
2021 Q2292-0.34%
2021 Q1293-2.98%
2020 Q4302-2.58%
2020 Q33105.44%
2020 Q22941.03%
2020 Q1291-7.91%
2019 Q43162.60%
2019 Q33084.76%
2019 Q22941.03%
2019 Q1291-0.34%
2018 Q42922.46%
2018 Q32851.42%
2018 Q22811.81%
2018 Q1276-2.13%
2017 Q4282-1.05%
2017 Q32854.01%
2017 Q22740.74%
2017 Q12720.74%
2016 Q42701.12%
2016 Q32672.30%
2016 Q22610.38%
2016 Q1260-0.01%

Here it is in graph form.

First, the total number of registrations.

We see that more or less, physician registrations in Lethbridge had been rising for about 4 years, hitting their peak in the final quarter of 2019. Over the past couple of years or so, the numbers have been dropping. There was a bit of a surge during the start of the pandemic, but the last 5 quarters have completely wiped out those gains.

Not only that, but physician registrations are now at their lowest level since the 1st quarter of 2018, when they were also at 275.

Keep in mind that the population of Lethbridge has increased during that time, which means we have the same number of registered physicians for more people.

At the end of 2017 (just before the first quarter of 2018), Lethbridge had a population of 96,515. That means 1 doctor for every 350.96 people.

By comparison, there were 101,799 people living in Lethbridge by the end of 2021, just before the first quarter of 2022. The ratio of physicians to people has jumped to 1 for ever 370.18 people.

In other words, each doctor is theoretically responsible for an extra 20 people.

Next, the % change from quarter to quarter.

Looking at the data this way shows us some interesting information.

First, of the 12 quarters that the UCP government have been in power, 6 of them had negative growth. Not only that, but 5 of them were larger decreases than the other 4 periods of decreases in the previous 3 years.

In fact, in the first quarter of 2020—the start of the COVID-19 pandemic—Lethbridge saw its largest single decrease in physician registrations during this 5-year period.

Lethbridge lost 25 physician registrations as the pandemic was starting. That’s 1 in 13 physicians.

If we average all the increases and decreases since the UCP took office, we see a net decrease of only -0.37%, which works out to a loss of 1.25 registrations every quarter, on average.

Last year, Lethbridge saw only 1 quarter with an increase in registrations, but it wasn’t enough to make up for the losses in the other 3. If we add them all up, Lethbridge averaged 1.08% fewer registrations per quarter last year. That rate drops to 1.76% fewer if we tack on the first quarter of 2022.

Let’s compare the first quarter of 2022 with previous first quarters.

The first quarter of 2022 was the only first quarter over the last 7 years where Lethbridge saw a year-over-year decrease in the number of registered physicians. And it wasn’t a small decrease either: it was nearly a drop of 6%.

In fact, it was such a significant drop, that it nearly wiped out the first-quarter gains of 2019 and 2021 combined.

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By Kim Siever

Kim Siever is an independent queer journalist based in Lethbridge, Alberta. He writes daily news articles, focusing on politics and labour.

2 replies on “Lethbridge doctors at lowest level in 4 years”

I’m thinking that not all registered physicians in Lethbridge are seeing patients, unless you pulled data on only family docs and specialties who actually see patients. Consider the radiologists and pathologists and anesthesiologists who don’t have offices for example. They’re all registered physicians too, but that’s sure not helping those of us without a family doctor, or people like me whose very long-term family doc is retiring this year.

A city of 100,000 needs more physicians, but it’s the family doctors we are desperate for right now.
Good thing that the UCP tore up their contract and tried to force ridiculous changes to the contract right as the pandemic was starting! I’m certain that had to help the situation for us /s.

And not that the pandemic is over, but there will be a rebound effect for the people who haven’t been maintaining their usual screening programs during the past 2 years (things like Pap smears, mammography, colonoscopies) so the demand will increase and the number of people found with some type of pathology will also increase. Long story short, this is going to get worse before it gets better. We really need to vote in the NDP next year to clean up this disaster, I hope the people with no family doctor in Lethbridge realize that there’s a direct correlation to the UCP government and the doctor shortage.

Oh, definitely. Not only that, but you don’t even need to live in Alberta to maintain your registration, so there’s no guarantee that all these registered physicians are even in Alberta.

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