Health Minister Mike de Jong.

Anesthesia docs ‘unethical’ in threat to block surgeries

April 1 service withdrawal would hold B.C. patients hostage: Health minister.

B.C. Health Minister Mike de Jong is accusing the B.C. Anesthesiologists’ Society of “unprofessional” and “unethical” behaviour by threatening to withdraw service next month, potentially disrupting thousands of scheduled surgeries.

The society, which de Jong said represents only a small number of anesthesiologists, repeated its ultimatum today that it will withdraw service for non-urgent elective surgeries starting April 2 unless it gets a seat at the bargaining table in talks between the province and the B.C. Medical Association (BCMA).

“I think it’s unfortunate any time any group of professionals, in this case doctors, threaten to hold patients hostage for a dispute that is at the end of the day about money,” de Jong said.

“The average full-time anesthetist today earns $340,000 a year, with very little in the way of overhead by virtue of the circumstances in which they practice.”

De Jong said his ministry has contacted the B.C. College of Physicians and Surgeons and asked it to remind individual anesthesiologists “what their professional and ethical obligations are” as well as the consequences for any service withdrawal.

The province will also work with all affected doctors to draw up a contingency plan to deal with any work stoppage.

The breakaway B.C. Anesthesiologists’ Society (BCAS) wants to negotiate separately from the BCMA, which bargains for all doctors in the province, including specialists.

De Jong said anesthesiologists have received BCMA-negotiated pay increases of 36.2 per cent since 2001 – more generous than the 22.3 per cent increase for the rest of the medical profession.

More than $13 million in new funding was added late in 2009 to improve the pay for obstetrical anesthesia.

De Jong said the BCAS supported the transfer and agreed there would be no withdrawal of obstetric anesthesia service and that any disputes over other services would be addressed through the Physician Master Agreement (PMA) that covers all specialties.

The threatened service withdrawal would violate previous agreements, according to the BCMA, which says also says the BCAS has encouraged its members to resign their BCMA memberships.

BCAS executive director Dr. Roland Orfaly denied the job action will affect mothers giving birth or any other urgent cases.

“We are still going to protect patients,” Orfaly said. “We will continue all emergency surgery. We will continue even non-emergency but cancer-related and cardiac surgery, all obstetric care and all care of pediatric patients 18 years and younger.”

Patients who can expect delays to their scheduled surgeries – if the impasse persists – include those awaiting non-emergency hip or knee replacements and cataract surgeries.

Orfaly said de Jong previously offered the BCAS a seat in binding talks with a conciliator but has reneged because neither the ministry nor the BCMA have actually allowed its society representatives to participate.

“If he agrees to deliver on his promise there will be no withdrawal of service,” Orfaly said. “If he chooses to break that promise, he’s choosing to escalate the confrontation.”

The BCAS first announced the planned April service withdrawal on Dec. 13.

Orfaly said anesthesiologists do not want to withdraw service but cannot accept a situation where they’re denied access to a process that could settle their issues.

He said the BCAS represents 80 to 90 per cent of the 400 practicing anesthesiologists in B.C., compared to less than 50 per cent who are BCMA members.

Orfaly said the province cannot override the majority and allow the BCMA to act as bargaining agent against their wishes.

The society has previously argued B.C. could open more operating rooms and reduce surgery waits if it was willing to increase the pay and supports needed to attract more anesthesiologists to the province.

Anesthesiologists claim pay rates here are half what they are in some other parts of Canada.

According to a statement issued by the BCMA, an extra $2.5 million was directed to obstetric anesthesia at three hospitals – Victoria General, Surrey Memorial and Royal Columbian – after the BCAS staged a media campaign to embarrass the government that focused on a stillbirth at Victoria General.

A third party review later found care was provided within time guidelines and anesthesia coverage was not a factor in the stillbirth.

Just Posted

Car crashes through front doors at Hope Pharmasave

No one injured as a result of Thursday morning crash, and store is still open despite the damage

Hope school board candidates talk SOGI, successes and rocky patches of past four years

Six candidates are vying for three Hope trustee positions up for grabs in an Oct. 20 election

VIDEO: This is what buying legal pot in B.C. looks like

Take a look inside B.C.’s first and only legal pot shop located in Kamloops

Cindy Young makes second run for top political job at the District of Hope

Young, in her run for mayor, is campaigning to attract business to Hope and keep local youth in the community

10 things still illegal in the new age of recreational cannabis

Pot is legal – but there are still a lot of rules, and breaking some could leave you in jail

B.C. NDP retreats again on empty-home tax for urban areas

Rate reduced for all Canadians, dissident mayors to get annual meeting

B.C. teen gives away tickets to Ellen Degeneres show, plans O Canada welcome

The Grade 9 student wanted to give away tickets in the spirit of inclusivity

Canada’s top general takes aim at new reports of military sexual assault

Gen. Jonathan Vance is unhappy some troops continue to ignore his order to cease all sexual misconduct

Online fundraiser to cover funeral costs of motorcyclist killed in collision

Larry Nizio, 37, died after crash with pickup truck Oct. 12 in Abbotsford

Ignoring climate change poses potential catastrophe for B.C.

Fisheries scientist says ‘extraordinary challenges’ in water management lie ahead

Grow ops left in legal weeds

“I think people are going to get a big surprise that it’s not going to change things much.”

Driving with dope: Police talk rules on cannabis in the car

Even though pot is legal, you can’t smoke in the car

Most Read