Top News

Doctors NS appeals court decision on contracting

Doctors Nova Scotia is appealing a Nova Scotia Supreme Court decision that essentially allows the province to reach deals with individual doctors on all other aspects besides the physicians’ pay.

Nancy MacCready-Williams, CEO of Doctors Nova Scotia, said the professional association has in the past worked closely with government on contracting with the 2,400 practising physicians in the province.

Working with the Department of Health and Wellness, DNS agreed on contracting templates and a process that was “efficient and effective,” MacCready-Williams said.

The quick, seamless process assured a physician’s contract was similar to a physician providing the same kind of services on the other side of the province. In 2016, however, the template changed and government took the position that, while they needed to work with DNS on compensation, they could negotiate directly with the doctors on the services they would be providing, she said.

“We simply couldn’t agree, so we thought this is a matter of legal interpretation, so let’s go to the courts, which we did.”

The case was heard in June by Justice Robin Gogan through written submissions.

In her decision, released in February, the judge confirmed that the governing Doctors Nova Scotia Act sets DNS as the sole bargaining agent but does not mandate that government must negotiate with the association on matters other than compensation.

MacCready-Williams said the decision leaves physicians without representation on the other matters at all, because no one else can be the bargaining agent.

The appeal was filed on Friday. No court date has been set for it, yet, although MacCready-Williams is hopeful it will be heard before the court takes its summer break.

“We think this is an important issue that goes to the heart of our representation responsibilities,” MacCready-Williams said.

She said the resulting imbalance of power could see two similarly situated physicians have different terms and conditions in their contract for the same amount of money or paid different sums of money doing the same kind of work.

“It seems nonsensical and it has created, I think, a worry in the physician community about why is government doing this? Why does government not want to have Doctors Nova Scotia representing my interest in these kind of negotiations?”

MacCready-Williams said it doesn’t help with the doctor shortage in the province.

“At the end of the day, we have 200 physician vacancies in this province right now,” she said. “A hundred of those are family doctors and this just tends to create almost a perception of an anti-physician sentiment here. We receive calls from potential physician recruits who are confused and concerned about the absence of a contract and why is the current contracting landscape in Nova Scotia so confusing. It never used to be. We’re not sure why it is now these past couple of years.”

There are two overarching contracts expiring at the end of March. The master agreement governing family physicians and community-based specialists who are largely outside HRM and the clinical/academic funding plan contract that governs all specialists based at the QEII Health Sciences Centre or the IWK.

“Right now we’re at the negotiating table and there seems to be a suggestion by government that they’re not wanting to work with Doctors Nova Scotia and have us represent the interests of physicians right now on issues outside of compensation, so this is broader than just simply a philosophical discussion, this is having implications on the ground as we speak.”

The Department of Health declined to comment because the matter is before the courts.

RELATED

Recent Stories