Two surgeons in St. Anthony have issued a blunt warning outlining their "grave concerns about the future of health care and particularly surgical services (on) the Northern Peninsula."
Dr. William Fitzgerald and Dr. Massey Beveridge laid out those concerns in a letter to the three candidates in the district's Oct. 27 byelection.
"This problem impacts accessibility to care, patient safety, wait lists and physician burn-out," the letter notes.
"If the general surgery service here is allowed to fail, there will be preventable deaths, widespread public outrage and a big political mess. This outcome can yet be averted, but to do so will require prompt and definitive political action."
The doctors' comments again inject health care into the political equation in The Straits-White Bay North.
A recent government decision to cut medical services in nearby Flower's Cove sparked local outrage. The cuts have since been partially reversed.
Fitzgerald and Beveridge claim that the current surgical situation is "fragile and not sustainable." To view full letter click here.
There are presently only two of the three needed permanent general surgeons at the Charles S. Curtis Hospital in St. Anthony, the letter notes. Fitzgerald is often away, in his role as president of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, and is set to retire by early 2011.
If prompt action is not taken to recruit a new surgeon, the doctors warn, general surgery could cease.
If that happens, they note, chemotherapy will stop in the region, and air ambulance costs will skyrocket. Referrals to Corner Brook and St. John's will further overburden those centres.
"The public will be justifiably furious and you will have to answer to them."
No action from board, minister
The Labrador-Grenfell Health board doesn't "seem to have the authority to act" on the situation, and attempts to engage the health minister "have as yet yielded no serious action," Fitzgerald and Beveridge note.
"The recent revelation (that) the Department of Health has considered cutting specialist services in St. Anthony, and their precipitous closure of important services in Flower's Cove, raise widespread suspicion that the government is more concerned about saving money than it is about people's health in this region."
Neither doctor could be reached for comment before deadline.
NDP Leader Lorraine Michael - whose office provided the surgeons' letter to The Telegram - said it is time for action.
"To me, it's a very serious picture that's painted here by the surgeons," Michael said.
The Department of Health steered inquiries about the NDP's news release on the issue to Labrador-Grenfell Health, which accused Michael of peddling misinformation and said it is "committed to the recruitment and retention of health professionals."
When the existence of the surgeons' letter later surfaced, Labrador-Grenfell Health officials did not immediately respond to followup questions.