The provincial budget, delivered last week, included a record amount for health care, with a budget of $7.59 billion. This was a 10 percent increase from the previous year.  

One of the key concerns voiced by many in recent months has been surrounding staffing for rural communities. This was brought up during the recent SARM convention in Regina and was mentioned numerous times in the Legislature in the days leading up to the budget.  

The Minister of Rural and Remote Health, Tim McLeod, pointed out the province established the Health Human Resources Action Plan in 2022, and it has been helping to alleviate some of the stresses on the system.  

“Over the past 18 months, we’ve seen some incredible successes with that plan,” McLeod said. “We’re continuing with the good work that’s been done under that, and increasing funding to the rural and remote recruitment incentive to help us continue to fill hard-to-recruit positions, as well as the increased funding for the rural physician incentive program that helps incentivize more physicians to work in our rural and northern communities.” 

There is a total of $33.8 million for rural and remote staffing included in the budget, which isn’t part of the rural and remote recruitment incentive program. The staffing funding is to help support adding 250 new full-time permanent positions across nine classifications in 54 communities. The Saskatchewan Rural and Remote Recruitment Incentive is $8.7 million, which will have an intake of recipients for 2024-25. The fund, up from $2 million in last year’s budget, has some participants who are completing their first and second-year service agreements. Another $1 million was set aside in the budget specifically to help support rural family physician recruitment and retention.  

The government has also announced they are expanding the number of training seats under the Saskatchewan International Physician Practice Assessment program. There were 14 new physicians starting practice in rural communities across the province after completing the program in December, with two of them, Drs. Anureet Gill and Gbemisola Osanyin, starting in Radvville, and Dr. Mitra Jonoobi beginning practice in Carlyle. 

Prior to the budget, the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities called for the provincial government to actually utilize a program that had been previously suggested – the Grow Your Own Nurse Practitioner program. The program was first introduced by the provincial government in 2014, but never got off the ground.  

McLeod said the government has since introduced several other strategies.  

“What we’ve done is we’ve incorporated the best parts of that grow-your-own plan into the new strategies we’ve introduced since that time, some of which we’re seeing come to fruition now with the incentive programs that we’ve got,” McLeod explained. He added the recent announcement by Premier Scott Moe and Health Minister Everett Hindley further help with the recruitment of nurse practitioners.  

The program, announced a week ahead of the budget, will see 25 new nurse practitioner positions created over the course of the next year.