10/16/2013 06:20 EDT | Updated 12/16/2013 05:12 EST

Regina health region recruiting to fill shortage of emergency room doctors

REGINA - The Regina Qu'Appelle Health Region says it is recruiting doctors in the United Kingdom to fill a shortage of physicians in hospital emergency rooms.

The health region says the 17 or 18 doctors it has now aren't enough to staff Regina emergency rooms properly.

The long-term goal is to keep 26 or 27 doctors working.

Health officials are bracing for the possibility of ER slowdowns or sporadic closures.

Health region spokesman Glen Perchie says that would likely happen at Regina's Pasqua Hospital because there are more services available at the General Hospital.

Perchie says doctors are working hard to fill the gap as best they can.

“They are taking on a number of additional shifts. They’re so dedicated to making sure patients are safe that they’re taking on sometimes more than I’d like to see them take on for their own wellness,” said Perchie, who is the health region's executive director for emergency programs.

“I don’t think it’s a case at this point of becoming unsafe. It certainly is impacting their lives.”

The region is hoping to cover more shifts with locums — doctors employed elsewhere, but who will work in a different region for a set period of time.

"Our objective right now is to stop the bleeding," said Perchie. “If we can keep it where we are right now and have support from locums and others in the department, I’m hopeful that we can avert closures."

He doesn't anticipate a significant increase to doctor numbers until the new year.