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Public has become complacent with a broken health-care system, incoming NLMA president says

Dr. Stephen Major says he doesn’t see anything in the provincial budget that will address the urgent problems facing Newfoundland and Labrador’s health-care system, and says he’s worried the public is getting too comfortable with a failing system.

Major, a family and emergency room doctor in St. John’s, is the incoming president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association.

While he was encouraged to see more spending in some areas, Major said he was disappointed by a lack of urgency in the province’s $4-billion health-care plan for this fiscal year.

“The biggest issue I see is no real attempt to improve the access to care for patients in this province,” Major said. “I’ve been working as a family physician for 28 years, and we’ve come to the point that we accept what is really unacceptable … and I don’t see anything that’s in this budget that really addresses that.”

Major also took aim at long wait times for a list of specialties, where patients are waiting anywhere between six months and five years for important appointments and surgeries.

He pointed to the frustration expressed by fish harvesters last week — whose protests shut down the Confederation Building and delayed the provincial government’s attempts to introduce the budget — and said it’s time the general public started to feel that way about their health care.

“I just think people need to be more like the fisherman at the protest last week and say, ‘This is not good enough.’ This is just not good enough for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. And I get upset because I just feel like we’ve become complacent about accepting things.”

What’s in the budget?

The budget earmarks $30 million to hire health-care workers for 19 family care teams and create new teams in places like Baie Verte, Springdale, Lewisporte, Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s and downtown St. John’s.

The province is adding $2 million to increase Memorial University’s medical school seats for local residents.

There is $15 million in spending for mental health initiatives, including $900,000 to expand a harm reduction team and $1 million to create mobile crisis response teams in smaller communities.

There is also $10 million going to recruit and retain health-care professionals.

In the budget speech, Finance Minister Siobhan Coady said the province had recruited more than 450 nurses and 80 physicians.

Major said that sounds great, but doctors aren’t seeing the results showing up in the system.

“Why do we still have 100,000 Newfoundlanders and Laboradorians who don’t have a family doctor?” he said. “It may be that they’re coming in and then they’re leaving. Are they counting physicians who are working with virtual care, which again is a Band-Aid solution?”

Major said he doesn’t believe the province will be able to truly compete for talent until they have reached national pay parity for physicians, especially family doctors.

He said the investment in primary care teams sounds positive, but said the implementation has been flawed and siloed. Major wonders if that investment would have been better served providing more competitive pay for family doctors.

“What if that money had just been put into paying family physicians enough that you’d be able to recruit and retain everybody in these rural sites? Maybe then we wouldn’t need this.”

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