11/22/2013 05:21 EST | Updated 01/25/2014 04:01 EST

Saskatchewan government working with health region to solve overnight ER closure

REGINA - Saskatchewan's health minister says his department is working with the health region to address the closure of a Regina hospital's emergency room at night.

Dustin Duncan says there will be some staff at the Pasqua Hospital to assess people, and anyone with an acute problem will be sent by ambulance to the General Hospital.

Duncan would also like people to consider options such as walk-in clinics.

He points to a recent report that said 15 to 20 per cent of patients who come into ERs in Regina don't have serious medical emergencies.

A lack of doctors has forced the Pasqua Hospital to shut its ER doors between 7:30 p.m. and 8 a.m. starting next week.

The NDP opposition wants the government to completely overhaul its current hospital staffing strategy.

The Regina Qu'Appelle Health Region says despite efforts to recruit doctors, staffing levels are still one-third below what is needed to keep both of the city's emergency departments open.

The health ministry and the health region are working to recruit 10 more doctors.

The New Democrats say that alone won't solve the problem.

“One of the ERs in the capital city of a booming province has had to reduce its hours. That is not acceptable,” said NDP health critic Danielle Chartier. “The government has buried its head in the sand over the last few years when it comes to some of the broader issues in health care.”

Chartier pointed to overcrowding and overwork in ERs as reasons for why it is difficult to keep doctors.

“It’s not just a recruitment issue. If you can get people here, that’s great, but emergency room physicians have identified it as a retention issue themselves.”

Chartier added that a lack of other support staff in ERs is another reason that doctors leave.

Duncan suggested successful contract negotiations might help keep ER physicians.

“That will ... make Saskatchewan a more competitive place versus other provinces like Ontario and Alberta where we do lose ER physicians to,” he said.

Duncan said there are other reasons besides salary why doctors leave.

“We can address some of those issues, such as having overworked emergency staff, once we are able to stabilize the existing physicians who are here.”