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Newfoundland and Labrador doctors say recruitment efforts missing from budget

Dr. Lynette Powell is president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association.
Dr. Lynette Powell is president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association.

The province’s doctors say Premier Andrew Furey and Health Minister Dr. John Haggie demonstrated a willingness to seek solutions to family doctor shortages during a meeting Tuesday.

But spokesperson Dr. Lynette Powell said Wednesday’s provincial budget showed no signs of addressing the problem.

“We are disappointed that there was no attention at all to the crisis in family medicine,” said Powell, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association (NLMA) following the release of the budget. “We’ve brought this forward on a number of occasions and I think 100,000 Newfoundlanders and Labradorians who do not have a family doctor would agree with us.”

A government release Wednesday characterized the previous day’s meeting — in which all participants are actually medical doctors — as a positive step, and lauded the NLMA’s willingness to participate in a health-care task force.

“The provincial government and the NLMA share a common agenda for continued improvement in primary health care, including the expansion of integrated primary health-care teams, and other measures that will make the province a more attractive place to practice family medicine,” the statement read.

However, Powell reiterated the association’s stance on a $3.3-million virtual-care service to be staffed by nurse practitioners.

“We are disappointed that there was no attention at all to the crisis in family medicine,” said Powell, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association (NLMA) following the release of the budget. “We’ve brought this forward on a number of occasions and I think 100,000 Newfoundlanders and Labradorians who do not have a family doctor would agree with us.”

“The NLMA stands very firm in our stance that a virtual-care walk-in service is not a service that the people of the province need,” she said. “It fragments patients from their primary care providers and it’s not good quality care.”

She emphasized it’s not a criticism of the ability of those who staff it, but rather than the model itself, which she said would not be recommended anywhere else in the country.

No misunderstanding

Earlier in the morning, the health minister said the NLMA’s opposition largely stemmed from a misunderstanding as to whether electronic health records would be available to those staffing the service.

Asked if that was true, Powell was blunt: “No, not at all.”

She said doctor shortages in St. John’s and Conception Bay North have have been a problem for at least a year or more, and that Lab West, the south coast and Stephenville also now have “catastrophic shortages” of family physicians.

“It’s not going to get any better until attention is paid to it,” she said.

Powell did offer one bright spot for existing doctors. She says there are indications that long-awaited contract bargaining may finally begin in November.

Peter Jackson is a local journalism initiative reporter covering health at The Telegram. [email protected]

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