Lethbridge lost 25 physician registrations at the start of the pandemic

In the last two quarters, Alberta’s 3rd largest city lost another 17.

Last month, I wrote a news story about the number of registered physicians in Alberta. In the weeks since, there has been some reports about the lack of doctors in Lethbridge and S0uthern 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 for the last 5 years:

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Registration Statistics, 2020–2016, CPSA

There’s some interesting data in there.

For example, the South Zone and the North Zone are the only ones to have seen a decline in the number of physicians. That’s a loss of 23 for the South and 3 for the North, which works out to -3.7% and -0.5%.

Now, to be fair, 2019 saw increases over 2018 in all health zones, so 2020 registrations were still higher than 2018 registrations, even with the drop from 2019 numbers.

That being said, these should be taken in context. Here’s how much different the 2020 numbers are to the 2018 numbers.

% change
(2020 vs 2018)
Registration Statistics, 2020–2016, CPSA

So, while all the health zones had more registrations than they did in 2018, the South Zone saw, by far, the smallest increase: only 0.66%.

Not only that, but last year, the number of physicians registered in the South Zone made up 5.5% of all registrations in the province. The previous year, it was 5.8% of all registrations, and it was 5.65% in 2018.

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
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 year, the numbers have been dropping. There was a bit of a surge during the start of the pandemic, but the last two quarters have pretty much wiped out those gains.

Next, the % change from quarter to quarter.

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

First, of the 8 quarters that the UCP government have been in power, 3 of them had negative growth. Not only that, but all three 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 increase of only 0.17%, which works out to only 1/4 new registrations every quarter, on average. In other words, under the UCP, Lethbridge had an average net gain of just 1 registration a year (4 quarters).

During the two most recent quarters, Lethbridge saw consecutive losses. Actually, let’s compare those two quarters with their counterparts in the other years.

First, the fourth quarter of 2020.

While Lethbridge saw the largest fourth quarter increase over the last 5 years in 2019—the first fourth quarter under the UCP—the most recent fourth quarter gave us the largest decrease in the last 5 years. In fact, that decrease was so large, it completely wiped out the increase of the previous fourth quarter.

Here’s the first quarter data:

It looks as though the first quarter isn’t typically a quarter that sees much growth in physician registrations, with only one increase over the last 6 first quarters. Even so, the two most recent first quarters—both under a UCP government—have been the worst first quarters during this reporting period.

And when it all comes down to it, at the end of the first quarter of 2021, Lethbridge had roughly the same number of physician registrations that they had just as the UCP took office 2 years ago.

We had 294 registrations in the second quarter of 2019, and now (or at least, as of March) we have 293.

So, actually—technically speaking—we have fewer doctors than we had 2 years ago.

And that’s just up until this past March. There’ve been reports of people losing their family doctor since then, so the 2021 second quarter update may end up being enlightening.

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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.

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