N.L. doctors appeal to feds to reverse cuts to health-care for refugees

James McLeod jmcleod@thetelegram.com
Published on June 18, 2013
Doctors Pauline Duke (left) and Norah Duggan speak to reporters in St. John’s Monday about cuts to refugee health care in Canada.  — Photo by James McLeod/The Telegram

Doctors in Newfoundland and Labrador have joined voices with people from across the country who are calling on the federal government to reverse cuts to health care for refugees.

At a news conference in St. John’s, doctors from the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association called federal cuts reckless and ill-informed.

“Since June 2012, changes to the program have resulted in important health services for refugee claimants being eliminated or restricted, leaving many patients to suffer in silence,” said Dr. Pauline Duke, who is also a member of the Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care steering committee. “Canadians recognize basic primary care as a human right, and we need to ensure that this is not taken away from some of the most vulnerable members of our society.”

Duke said refugees in Canada have been denied chemotherapy and other treatments as a result of their status.

“We know that waiting until patients are forced to go to emergency departments does not save the system money. It will only cost the system more in the long run,” she said. “Our hope is that all refugee claimants in Canada will have access to medically necessary care no matter where they are born.”


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What it’s really about is downloading health-care costs, said Dr. Norah Duggan, past president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Chapter of the College of Family Physicians of Canada.

“Although the decision to cancel supplemental health benefits was made by the federal government to save money, the cost of these services will likely be downloaded to provincial health-care budgets at increased costs,” Duggan said. “Preventive care is more cost-effective than emergency care and treatment of complications.”

Duke said the federal government policy affects very few people in the province, since there are only a handful of refugees in Newfoundland and Labrador who are not government sponsored.

Across the country, however, there are more than 20,000 per year.

Duke said that in most cases, doctors will treat patients regardless of their medical coverage.

“Physicians will go ahead and treat patients, (regardless of) the issue of the costs of,  for example, trying to order lab tests or chest x-rays or hospitalizations,” she said.



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