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Doctors are mulling the idea of mass resignations

Yesterday, David Cochrane of CBC Here & Now filed a major advance on a story that has been simmering for months years even.

He aired the content of a letter to doctors from the NLMA, which reveals that massive pay raises for some pathologists has caused outrage among other doctors. Among other things, the NLMA criticized Health Minister Ross Wiseman for failing to reply to letters expressing their concerns, and circumventing the association to deal directly with a handful of doctors.

In a CBC Radio Morning Show interview today, Wiseman denied this, and said in effect that there was no unanswered correspondence.

I have the letter that refutes that statement. One of my contacts has slipped me a copy of a letter of complaint that the NLMA sent to Minister Wiseman on June 2. That letter remains unacknowledged by the minister.

The letter begins diplomatically but is quite strongly worded, and spells out the issues clearly for the minister.

"The decision by government to introduce a salary scale that is exclusive to some specialists and not others is unprecedented and problematic for a number of reasons," the letter says. "First, it gives a wrong message to the many other salaried physicians around the province by creating a two-class system. There are many salaried specialists who are faced with the same hardships as the pathologists, and medical and radiation oncologists. The only distinction is that the latter group is living with a crisis that has already occurred, while the others live on the cusp of crises that are looming on the horizon. Also, under the new arrangement, other oncology groups (e.g. hematologists, pediatric oncologists and gynecological oncologists) and indeed salaried specialists of all kinds who have been serving the province with distinction and dedication for years will stand to earn substantially less money than a newly graduating and inexperienced specialist."

(The boldface emphasis is mine.)

I spoke with a doctor, who asked to remain anonymous, about this issue. That doctor confirmed that issues affecting pathologists are no different from issues affecting other doctors. Their workload is as high (in some cases higher) than it is for the pathologists, there is difficulty recruiting across the board, the level of training and complexity of cases is the same, and morale is low (and getting lower, with these recent developments). The only difference between pathologists and their colleagues outside of making twice as much money, in many cases is that they have been making headlines because of the Cameron inquiry, and the scandal that preceded it.

"Are they willing to wait for a similar crisis in other areas? The only difference with, say, someone who has chronic pain from arthritis, is that you aren't going to have an obituary written about it," the doctor said.

My contact told of a colleague who lives in St. John's but flies to Nova Scotia for one week out of every four, to work as a doctor in that province. The airfare is paid for, as are the accommodations. The doctor works for one week, and is then off for three.

"That doctor can work a total of three months, and make what we make in an entire year," said my source. "This person can't accept a job here, at the current salary scale, because it is out of line with what they can get elsewhere in Canada."

With competition that intense, and so close to home, there is no question that things here will get worse before they get better. The public may have little sympathy for doctors right now, but if they start leaving the province for better salary and working conditions elsewhere, things will deteriorate quickly.

"The level of stress is incredible," said the doctor. "It's like we have waited many, many years to have our issues addressed. Now we're being told that we have to wait another year and there is no guarantee that our concerns will be addressed Why are they taking care of this special group? They are not operating under circumstances any different than the rest of us. We actually are talking about mass resignations. Is that the only thing that government will respond to? If that's the case, if that's what they're asking for, it may be what they'll get. We are certainly asking that question among ourselves."

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