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Shortage of Doctors in British Columbia

Shortage of Doctors in British Columbia

Old May 14th 2002, 5:20 pm
Sergei Drachev
Posts: n/a
Default Shortage of Doctors in British Columbia

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B.C. doctors say in TV address that shortage of doctors major problem By

VANCOUVER (CP) - British Columbia doctors urgently need a resolution to their
dispute with the government but the province's biggest problem is that it
doesn't have enough doctors, the president of the B.C. Medical Association said
Tuesday in a television address.

BD. Heidi Oetter and a variety of other physicians who appeared on the
half-hour provincewide telecast said very little about the current dispute
that has doctors cancelling surgeries and closing offices.

They referred to a lack of equipment in hospitals, overworked doctors and
little on-call pay as the backbone of what has led to the current problems
between the doctors and the government.

"B.C. does not produce enough doctors," Oetter said. "We never have."

She said the Liberal government needs to follow the
example of other provinces such as Alberta, which has offered
its doctors better remuneration so they stay in that province.

"If the B.C. government does not learn from Alberta and take some positive
action accordingly we are going to be increasingly hearing about a
precautionary measure being suggested by some of B.C.'s better
physicians," she said.

Oetter did not say what that measure that would be except that it "speaks
volumes about the truly critical state of our health-care system.

The B.C. government disputes that there is a doctors' shortage in the province.

About three hours before the TV address, Health Services Minister Colin
Hansen offered to immediately appoint an independent fact-finder and mediator
to resolve the dispute that could result in urgent surgeries being cancelled
next week.

Oetter said in an interview minutes before the broadcast that she would be
speaking to Hansen on Wednesday morning.

"I think he's certainly conceded in some areas and I certainly am encouraged by
his statements," she said.

Hansen's extension of an olive branch met a basic demand by doctors, who wanted
the province to appoint one mediator instead of three, which the government had
suggested last week.

Doctors want a third-party dispute resolution mechanism to resolve
future disputes.

Hansen also called on doctors to immediately halt service withdrawals and
resume negotiations, but Oetter said some service withdrawals, such as the
cancellation of elective surgeries, would continue for now.

Hansen also said the B.C. Medical Association "is showing itself to be
something of a dysfunctional organization" that can't get internal agreement
from its own members on what it really wants.

He warned that if the BCMA can't represent all doctors, "our government will
explore other options, such as engaging in separate discussions with
specialists and general practitioners as they do in Quebec."

But Oetter disputed that, saying "we certainly have our ducks lined up."

Doctors have already accepted a $392 million offer from the government, but say
the crux of their dispute centres on the need for a third-party dispute
resolution mechanism that includes binding arbitration.

Hansen said the government is willing to work toward that.

"But I want all British Columbians to understand that however much this seems
like a classic labour negotiation, it's not," he said.

"The BCMA is not a union. Fee-for-service doctors are not employees, they are
private business people who are ultimately themselves not bound by whatever the
BCMA might say or do."

About 80 per cent of B.C. doctors work on a fee-for-service basis.

The remainder, including emergency room physicians, pathologists, chiefs of
medical staff employed by hospitals and provincial medical health officers, are
salaried, contract or sessional employees.

The doctors' dispute escalated this week, with elective surgeries being
cancelled Monday.

On Tuesday, patients were shut out of doctors' offices and some physicians
whose doors were open refused to refill prescriptions.

Some medical labs were also closed in protest.

Specialists and family doctors have also stopped taking new patients.

If the protest escalates, physicians will also resign their hospital
privileges, meaning they will no longer be able to admit patients to hospital.

Oetter has said the Liberals are to blame for the dispute and that withdrawing
services is the only way to put pressure on the government to negotiate a

The current dispute has been heating up since February when the Liberals
cancelled an arbitrators's binding decision that granted doctors $392 million
more in pay and a further increase April 1.

But doctors say they're angry because the government now wants to include
cost overruns in the $392 agreed to in a memorandum of understanding
signed March 26.

So-called utilization payment fees would cover a growth in demand for services
because of an aging or growing population and for new technologies for the
duration of the three-year contract the doctors are seeking.

Hansen said there's no more money for doctors, who have been without a contract
since April 1, 2001.

"As it is, 10 per cent of all government revenues go to doctors' compensation,"
he said. "That's $2.3 billion, for just 7,800 physicians."

Earlier Tuesday, Hansen said doctors have been given "some bad information from
the BCMA."

"I've certainly seen some of the e-mails that have gone out from the BCMA to
doctors over this last number of weeks, which are full of total
misinformation," he said in Victoria.

"And I think the individual doctors, once they find the facts in some of these
things, might realize that they are as much the victims in this as the


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