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

Published on April 7, 2013
Dr. Lydia Hatcher
— Telegram file photo

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