The Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association is calling off contract negotiations with the provincial government.
In a media release Thursday afternoon, NLMA president Dr. Susan MacDonald said Health Minister John Haggie and Finance Minister Siobhan Coady have told the group the provincial government won't spend any money to improve doctor recruitment and retention.
MacDonald said the Department of Health also advised the NLMA that it intends to change provincial legislation to remove the requirement that physicians must be members of the association.
"To advance this type of divide and conquer tactic in the middle of our negotiations is unethical and cannot be tolerated," MacDonald told reporters Thursday.
The union represents more than 1,300 practising physicians, who have been without a contract for four years. Negotiations for a new one began 10 months ago, but MacDonald says the province has failed to produce any plans to address recruitment and retention, a crucial issue for the association, which says about 98,000 people in Newfoundland and Labrador don't have a family doctor.
MacDonald said the NLMA's own proposals have been "flatly rejected."
"After years of delay, and months of inaction at the negotiations table, it is clear to us that the government has no intention to address core problems in the recruitment and retention strategy and crisis," said MacDonald.
"Family medicine is facing shortages in every region of the province, and other specialties are suffering the strain of an under-resourced, overloaded health-care system which fails to attract new doctors."
In August, Nova Scotia announced it would spend $55 million on physician recruitment in that province. At the time, MacDonald said Newfoundland and Labrador needed to become more competitive with other Atlantic provinces to recruit physicians. MacDonald said the majority of specialties have fallen below the Atlantic average since the previous contract expired, and Newfoundland and Labrador's family physicians are the lowest paid in the country.
"The ministers are sending a clear message to any doctor thinking about coming to Newfoundland and Labrador and a very clear message to any doctor working here now. Their failure to compete with the other Atlantic provinces means we will not see an end to our current physician shortage or the exodus of our medical gradates."
Coady said Thursday afternoon it's disappointing the NLMA has called the province's health care into question, "especially when we're at our most vulnerable because of the pandemic."
Coady said the provincial government, which spends about $500 million on doctors annually, has been in "active discussions" with the NLMA in recent months on multiple retention issues, including the renewal of its memorandum of agreement, payment schedule review, leave benefits and a blended payments model.
She said the provincial government gave a detailed proposal to the NLMA on Sept. 29 and haven't heard back.
"I understand that they have suspended discussions at this point. They want to go back out to their membership, and I can appreciate that, I do," said Coady at Confederation Building in St. John's.
"And I can appreciate that we will hear from membership on these very important issues. The goal here is to improve our health care for all of us. I think that's critically important."
'Baffling': PC leader
PC Leader David Brazil called it a "dark day for health care" in the province.
"What we saw today from the government is that they don't want to negotiate in good faith. They don't want to find ways to improve our health care," he said Thursday, calling the situation "alarming" and "baffling."
"They don't want to find ways to give Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, particularly those 100,000 who don't have access to a doctor, the opportunity to be able to get back to access to health care," he said.