CALGARY -- An open letter signed by more than 800 Alberta doctors is pleading with the provincial government to immediately pause planned changes to healthcare, which are set to take effect April 1.

The letter is addressed to Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro, Premier Jason Kenney, Alberta Medical Association President Dr. Christine Molnar and Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu. NDP health critic David Shephard was also included in the letter, which was sent Monday morning.

“Now is not the time to restructure the system that we understand and intrinsically know how to operate,” the letter reads. It says the proposed changes would be “detrimental to our patients and the healthcare system.”

In February, the provincial government announced it was ending its agreement with Alberta doctors and implementing new rules on April 1. The most controversial change was the way doctors were to bill the province for care, but the government reversed that measure earlier this month. 

The new contract also includes a number of changes, including the way overhead costs can be recuperated, reduced coverage for liability insurance and the end of funding for training.

“We are essential responders that cannot be replaced,” the letter says. “Our crisis training will serve Albertans during this pandemic.

“Doctors cannot afford any distractions during this time where we are counted on to perform to the best of our capabilities.”

The letter says more than 400 community clinics across Alberta are laying off staff or considering closure.

The letter includes eight pages of doctors who have signed to the message. It says doctors “are committed to ensuring the stability and financial feasibility of our healthcare system” once the COVID-19 pandemic is under control. 

In a statement, health minister Tyler Shandro says the government is continuing to work with doctors, through the AMA, to negotiate a new contract.

"Our government will provide whatever resources are needed to protect Albertans in the pandemic," Shandro said. "We expect spending on physician services and health care overall to increase significantly this year.

"My door is open to any concrete, specific proposal to support physicians and patients in the emergency and going forward."