Chronic-pain specialist leaving province due to cutbacks, lack of support

Tara Bradbury
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Dr. Lydia Hatcher

It wasn’t last week’s budget that was the last straw for Dr. Lydia Hatcher, but it reinforced her decision.

Hatcher, a family doctor in the St. John’s area for the past 31 years, is moving away from the province, saying she’s tired of seeing cutbacks, lack of support and what she says are dangerous policies in many areas of health care.

Hatcher’s last day of practice will be June 28. She’ll begin a new job as the head of family medicine at a hospital in Hamilton, Ont., July 22, and she’ll teach courses in pain management at McMaster University.

“I accepted this position in January, so the final straw obviously came before (now), but when I heard the budget, I’ve been saying to all my friends, I am so glad

I’m getting out now. So glad,” she said.

Hatcher, a past-president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association, has developed a large chronic-pain practice. She helped the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Newfoundland and Labrador with the development of guidelines for management of opioid prescribing in chronic pain, and was part of the OxyContin task force subcommittee for the tamper-resistant prescription pads.

She said she has tried to lobby the government to establish an interdisciplinary chronic-pain team, something done in other provinces, as well as on new pain medications, with no success.

“One of my personal issues is there is a bunch of new pain medications that are much more difficult to abuse,” she said.

“There’s one which has a substance in it which is actually the same thing we give addicts to get them down out of a high, so clearly from an abuse perspective, it’s much safer. Government wouldn’t even look at it. I wrote a letter about all of these and I was told, ‘No, they’re too expensive.’ Well, you know what? It’s not just expense. It’s the problem of addiction and substance abuse that potentially you could be doing something about.”

The province’s health-care system is deplorable, Hatcher said, and things such as no funding for an electronic medical record — something which was highlighted by the Cameron Inquiry — a two-year wait list for a colonoscopy, and a lack of policies to help the elderly are unacceptable.

“We hear about the cutbacks in dental services. We hear about the cutbacks in the justice system, and that’s going to have an impact on the health of people,” Hatcher told The Telegram. “The government just doesn’t get it. They don’t understand it. You reach a point where it becomes untenable.”

Hatcher, who moved to this province from England with her family at age 11, has children and a grandchild living in Ontario.

Her siblings have all moved away and her husband, a Newfoundlander, died in 2011, so she has no direct family connections to this province. The patients she will leave behind are the only reason the decision was difficult, she says.

She feels it will take a change of government before things get better — and right now, they’re on a slippery slope, she said.

“I really feel that the Conservative government right now in our province is not listening to people. I think resources could be far better managed. I just think there are better and more economical ways of doing things.”

Twitter: @tara_bradbury

Organizations: College of Physicians, McMaster University, Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association The Telegram

Geographic location: Hamilton, Newfoundland and Labrador, England Ontario

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Recent comments

  • Nightdancer
    April 09, 2013 - 13:32

    We are having the same issues in the USA, so bravo to this doctor for speaking up! Patients with severe chronic pain are starting to be treated like criminals. Also, women are being given lower doses of sleep meds than men are, for not very good reasons. So, we have to get active in this endeavor in every country.

  • sherri
    April 08, 2013 - 09:49

    It saddens me to see Dr Hatcher leave, but I do not blame her. I worked in three other provinces as a nurse and retired back here. While away, I ran into two doctors who worked in St johns previously and who said they left because they did not want to be part of "what was going on in the hospitals, and were sick of the lack of funding and resources". This is scary. Living away for 25 years, I can honestly say I have never seen worse health care in my life anywhere in Canada and it is the governments fault. I am not blaming the nurses or doctors but someone has to be accountable for all the blunders and mistakes.. Between wait lists for surgeries and specialists, its no wonder you hear of so many people misdiagnosed and dying. Newfoundland patients are helpless, cant do anything but wait, and most of the time, wait to die. I moved home here to be near family. So even if she did move to be closer to her family, so be it. But I am sure, just like other doctors I spoke to, her decision was made easier with the "dangerous policies in the areas of health care". For someone to say that other provinces have the same problems in health care... move away for a bit. It wont take you 9 months to see a specialist or have an MRI. I met one woman here who had her ultrasound appointment 6 mts after she complained of a lump in her side. When she finally got it, and a mass was detected, it was going to be 6 months for her to see a gynaecologist!! So, she moved to another province so she could get the treatment she deserved. Nobody cares here and this is pretty obvious when you walk into an emerg and talk to people about what they are in for. But as long as our economy is booming with the oil, the mall is sold out, and lets not forget how important Muskrat Falls is...who really cares. Sure if all of our own people die off from lack of care, we can always just continue bringing in immigrants who will work for minimum wage in our province. Good luck Dr Hatcher. We may see you in ontario:)

  • Danny
    April 07, 2013 - 23:41

    Head of family medicine @ McMaster & close to her the end of story!

  • Joey
    April 07, 2013 - 17:54

    What a crock. She got a better job in Ontario and she is trying to save face by making this political statement as justification. If she didn't have kids there she would stay here. I lived in Ontario for years, healthcare is no different there than it is here. Before they got their massive raise they were all going to leave. Obviously everything worked out for all them..

    • david
      April 08, 2013 - 13:09

      Bingo. After a lifetime of resenting everything about people with money, the ones who aspire and succeed often feel compelled to make up a completely BS cover story for why they're going somewhere for a great big paycheque. Nowhere else in the world do people have such a terrible perception or phobia against success and wealth. Getting rich through a lottery is the only "admirable" way to get ahead.......weird, weird people.

  • frank
    April 07, 2013 - 15:35

    Dr. Hatcher, thanks for speaking out as i'm sure most doctors feel the same way as you. Can't imagine the PC's coming even close the next election. I know we will have our Liberal back in port de grave.

  • R Adams
    April 07, 2013 - 15:34

    I am so sorry to hear of Dr. Hatcher leaving. Being a chronic pain sufferer myself I will say that unless you are going through it yourself you will never understand the effect that pain has on a persons life. It can tear your life has you know it apart.We badly need these specialists.She is not the first one we have lost and while I am sure no one can cure chronic pain these doctors can help us to cope and give us enough relief to help us survive.Also dealing with so many sufferers the knowledge she has gained is just priceless.We need people like her especially the ones who are not just there for the money but the ones who are truly meant to be doctors.When will it stop.

  • roy
    April 07, 2013 - 14:18

    Lets see what other doctors will say about these comments. I have no knowledge and only speak from what I hear. Lets hope that if what she is saying true then other doctors will confirm it.

  • david
    April 07, 2013 - 14:05

    Everyone who ever left Newfoundland shared some morsel of altruistic, political rationale for leaving. Everyone has complaints and stuff they'd like to get off their chest...that's just life. But thank God that not everyone can call up the media and get their 15 minutes.....the line-up to the microphone would be long indeed. And BTW, if you decide to leave, you really don't have any right or credibility in making suggestions about local made your choice, focus on that. That will certainly be my approach.

  • Stephen Redgrave
    Stephen Redgrave
    April 07, 2013 - 13:33

    Dr Hatcher: We are sad to see another great mind leaving our province, however, our current government is making the hard decisions to pack up and leave, a lot easier. The attitude I see towards our provinces future is disgraceful. You descend from the United Kingdom as do I. Our parents taught us how to plan ahead and use logic and reasoning as a tool. The feeling I get as a newcomer to the Island comes right from Homer J Simpson when he advised young Bart "when you're asked to do something hard---Don't even bother trying" You're in a world where comon sense and the long standing traditions of wishful thinking knock heads everyday. Unfortunately , change is stil a generation away for Newfoundland and in the meantime great people like yourself will be benefiting another province with an open mind. Best of luck Dr, I know you'll do well. plus you'll have your family close by.

  • jarge
    April 07, 2013 - 12:34

    I am currently living in another country and have been debating whether when we return if it will be to Nfld. or to another province. The current government has made the decision easy - it will NOT be Nfld. We cannot bear coming back to that hardship. Its the worst its been since Clyde Wells (un)leaderership.

  • bob
    April 07, 2013 - 10:38

    Looks like the main reason for leaving is all your family is away!

  • worrried and sad
    April 07, 2013 - 09:30

    What a large kick in the guts for Chronic Pain Sufferers..........they can hardly manage to get people to believe them and support them but to now have a Dr with all this vast knowledge to just up and leave is devastating to the CPS of NL..........sad indeed and what is it going to take for gov't to see that they are losing very valuable people because of how they mismanaging NL as a whole!!!