Opinion article published in Postmedia papers

August 25, 2020

It’s hard to imagine a government anywhere waging a propaganda war against physicians during a pandemic, but that’s exactly what’s happening now in Alberta. It’s reckless, demoralizing for physicians and worse still, bad for patients. This letter highlights the message we are hearing from many physicians within the province of Alberta.

Using very aggressive tactics and distorted information, the UCP government has been trying to convince Albertans that the current dispute with physicians is all about money. That is untrue.  

The Alberta Medical Association (AMA) offered this Government the same 5% rollback in fees that occurred in the depths of the Klein-era cuts, something no other public sector group has offered. The UCP Government said No.

The AMA offered to accept the $5.4 Billion cap in spending provided the Minister takes responsibilities for the costs associated with his own future actions. The UCP Government said No.

The AMA has offered to have outstanding issues resolved by an independent third party through arbitration. The UCP Government said No. (After they ripped up the contract with doctors, whereby extinguishing our rights to arbitration as essential workers). If the Government actually believes doctors in Alberta are overpaid, they would have nothing to fear from arbitration – especially in this fiscal environment.

So, what is this dispute really about then? Very simply, control. The Government wants to crush the AMA and silence it as the voice of Alberta’s doctors. Government does not want doctors organized under a coherent association where they can speak strongly together on behalf of patients, each other and our health care system. They want doctors to be more like individual employees of Government that can be threatened and coerced, hired or fired as the Ministry sees fit. Government now wants to make ALL the healthcare decisions – big and small – and they want doctors to just be quiet, toe the line, and do what they are told.

We’ve already seen what this sort of unilateralism looks like. In the same breath announcing the cancelling of the Government’s contract with physicians, Minister Shandro heralded the imposition of his own “fiscal framework” for doctor compensation. He did so despite overwhelming contrary advice from physicians and the AMA. It was a disaster, which continues to create chaos in the healthcare system despite having rolled-back the most destructive elements (at least temporarily). But the Minister to this day, continues to tenaciously (some might say vindictively) seek out new ways to undermine physicians and the AMA. 

Silent and obedient subservience to Government is not a role that physicians are even allowed to play in Canada according to the law.  After all, it is the doctors themselves that are held legally responsible for the care provided to patients. In other words, the buck stops with doctors and not the Minister of Health. “The Government told me not to treat this” or “wait lists were too long, there was nothing I could do” are not excuses doctors can offer in court if something goes wrong. 

Doctors are expected to advocate for their patients and get the job done. A disease growing in your body does not care about new funding frameworks, the Health Minister’s authority or Government’s political goals. The AMA gives doctors in Alberta the ability to speak up effectively for patients even in the presence of a powerful and (at times) hostile government. It is the forum for doctors of different specialties to work together on system problems and solutions. By blatantly trying to sideline or sidestep the AMA, this Government is directly undermining your doctor’s ability to care for you.

Doctors are not just care providers, they are highly trained and experienced stewards of the system. Minister Shandro sees any sharing of responsibilities with physicians as a diminishment of his own authority, which is not only sad, it’s dangerous. Your healthcare system needs checks and balances, including the voice of your physicians through the AMA. Government needs to start respecting the voice of doctors and get back to the bargaining table. Doctors can then get back to their jobs caring for you without constant fear of what Government will do next to undermine them and their Association.

As Albertans, you need to stand up to protect your health care system. If you value the system you have, inform your MLA that you want to keep it. If you would like to help, please visit www.PatientsFirst.ca

Regards,

Dr. Darryl LaBuick, Co-chair      Dr. Siddharth Thakore, Co-Chair
AMA Joint Task Force                AMA Joint Task Force

And the undersigned, AMA Sections of: Addiction Medicine; Anesthesia; Cardiology; Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgery; Child and Adolescent Psychiatry; Chronic Pain; Clinical Assistants; Dermatology and Dermatologic Surgery; Diagnostic Imaging; Emergency Medicine; Endocrinology and Metabolism; Family Medicine; Gastroenterology; General Psychiatry; General Surgery; Generalists in Mental Health; Intensive Care; Internal Medicine; Laboratory Physicians; Medical Oncology; Nephrology; Neurology; Neurosurgery; Obstetrics and Gynecology; Occupational Medicine; Orthopedics; Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery; Palliative Medicine; Pediatrics; Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation; Plastic Surgery; Radiation Oncology; Respiratory Medicine; Rheumatology; Rural Medicine; Sport and Exercise Medicine; Thoracic Surgery; Urology; Vascular Surgery

The AMA advances patient-centered, quality care by advocating for and supporting physician leadership and wellness.