Cabinet ministers describe wage offer as generous
Jerome Kennedy File photo
Dr. Julia Trahey, an internal medicine specialist in St. John’s and clinical chief of quality assurance with Eastern Health, told reporters Friday about her own personal fear of making a medical error because of a heavy workload and job stress.
“Trust me, I don’t dream a lot, but I’ve been having this, probably anxiety dream, because I feel there’s too much coming at me,” Trahey said.
She described dreaming about being at a tribunal, where someone is asking, “‘Dr. Trahey, did you know it was too much? Did you understand that there was a possibility of making a mistake because of the demands that are being placed on you? Did you think that you could miss this?’ And the answers to those questions,” she said, “was, ‘Yeah, it’s getting to be too much.’”
Trahey is one of 13 medical specialists in the province who tendered their resignations Friday, effective Feb. 4, 2011, because of a two-tiered salary system for specialists, which they say is causing recruitment problems and contributing to heavy workloads and unacceptable patient wait times.
At a news conference Friday, Trahey said many of her patients are sad about her decision, but she believes she’s doing what’s best for them, rather than stay in a situation where she might miss something while “just trying to tread water.”
Dr. Bridget Fernandez, a medical geneticist with Eastern Health, and Dr. Sandra Luscombe, a developmental pediatrician and child protection physician with the Janeway children’s hospital, also spoke publicly about their decisions.
Twelve of the 13 specialists are resigning from Eastern Health and one from Western Health.
Fernandez said there are now 60 cancer specialists and laboratory medicine specialists who are paid higher than 120 other salaried specialists in the province, as a result of increases given pathologists and oncologists in 2008 following the Cameron Inquiry into breast cancer testing errors.
“We’re doing equal work and we feel we should have an equal wage,” Fernandez said, while also pointing out that the doctors resigning also believe no one category of patients should be more important than another.
“One of our largest concerns is the ongoing care of our patients,” Luscombe said. Over the next three months, the resigning specialists plan to meet with their patients to discuss their future care.
All three specialists said they initially thought government would address the workplace issues in the current round of contract talks with the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association (NLMA), but that hasn’t happened.
Trahey said the decision to resign hasn’t been easy and, for some specialists, it will come at great personal cost.
Luscombe said some have already been entertaining offers in other provinces, but there are some specialists who may need time to decide whether they’ll even stay in their medical specialty.
“Trust me, I don’t dream a lot, but I’ve been having this, probably anxiety dream, because I feel there’s too much coming at me. Dr. Julia Trahey, an internal medicine specialist in St. John’s and clinical chief of quality assurance with Eastern Health
The latest government offer provides wages at 98 per cent of Atlantic parity, but Luscombe said that’s still not internal parity with the specialists who were already given raises.
Fernandez said those specialists are paid about 50 per cent higher than the specialists in her group.
Health Minister Jerome Kennedy and Finance Minister Tom Marshall reacted Friday by telling reporters the specialists who are resigning were offered a 31 per cent increase in their annual salaries, currently at $204,000-plus.
“Essentially we are looking at physicians who will receive a raise of $50,000 to $60,000 over four years,” Kennedy said, noting that they would receive a lot of this money upfront.
Kennedy said the 13 specialists are in a group of 212 salaried specialists and at least six of them, who also teach or are associated with Memorial University, would receive additional funds there.
The minister said family physicians will also receive a 26 per cent pay increase in the contract offer, which doctors around the province will be voting on this month.
Marshall said pathologists and oncologists who were already given raises in 2008 will receive maintenance increases of two per cent per year.
“There is a gap,” Marshall acknowledged, but he said, “We’ve gone a heck of a long way to reduce the gap and over time I’m sure the gap could be eliminated.”
Marshall called government’s offer a generous one, worth an additional $81 million to the 1,075 physicians in the province. It represents an overall 25 per cent increase in the physician services base budget, bringing the total annual compensation package for doctors to about $410 million.
The ministers appear to have no intention of trying to reverse the resignations. Kennedy said government will instruct the health authorities to commence the recruitment process immediately to find replacements.
Acting Opposition leader Kelvin Parsons said it’s disappointing that these doctors have to resort to resigning, a move that will also be “devastating” for their patients. He said he can’t understand why government doesn’t agree to binding arbitration to resolve the outstanding issues.
NDP Leader Lorraine Michael is calling for a complete external review of the province’s health-care system in response to what she says are “startling mass resignations.”