11/28/2013 11:45 EST | Updated 01/28/2014 05:59 EST

New deal with Saskatchewan's ER doctors could help recruiting: health minister

REGINA - The Saskatchewan government has signed a new contract with emergency room doctors and hopes that higher salaries will help recruit more physicians.

The agreement is for a 13 per cent wage increase over three years.

Premier Brad Wall says that will bring wages for ER doctors to between $300,000 and $400,000 a year, depending on how many hours they work.

Health Minister Dustin Duncan says having a deal will help with recruiting efforts.

Regina's Pasqua Hospital was planning to close its emergency department overnight due to a shortage of doctors.

But that was averted at the last minute when ER doctors agreed to work extra shifts until more physicians can be hired.

"We are compensating at a rate comparable to the province of Alberta, I believe, comparable to the province of B.C. and also Ontario and a bit better, frankly, than some other provinces,” Wall said during question period at the legislature Thursday.

“We will be in a position where we can bring in emergency room physicians for the long term, to be able to stabilize the numbers, to give them a better work-life balance and address some of the concerns that they have had,” Duncan added.

The shutdown at the Pasqua hospital ER between 7 p.m. and 8 a.m. was supposed to start Thursday night.

But the Regina Qu'Appelle Health Region announced Thursday morning that doctors have agreed to work extra shifts until more physicians can be brought in temporarily.

People are still being asked only to visit emergency departments due to serious injury or illness.

Last week, Duncan pointed to a recent report that said 15 to 20 per cent of patients who come to ERs in Regina don't have serious medical emergencies.

The health region has said that 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 Opposition New Democrats have said the shortage is a sign of larger issues such as overcrowding and overwork in ERs. NDP health critic Danielle Chartier said retention of doctors is just as important as recruitment.

She said a lack of other support staff in ERs is another reason that doctors leave.

(CJME, The Canadian Press)

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