Doctors Nova Scotia Seeks Court Resolution on Contract Matters
Doctors Nova Scotia has provided the government notice of its intention to ask the courts to settle two contract issues with the provincial government. The association has been working to resolve these issues for 12 months. All doctors in the province could be impacted if the contract issues are not addressed.
“We’re at an impasse on two contract issues and despite having worked over the past year to find solutions, we’re now at the stage when we require a third party to resolve them,” said Dr. André Bernard, Doctors Nova Scotia’s Board Chair. “The association’s Board of Directors, which is made up of 21 physicians from across the province, agreed that all possible avenues have been exhausted and, therefore, legal resolution is necessary.”
Under dispute are the government’s use of unapproved contracts for Alternative Payment Plan (APP) physicians and monies owed to Doctors Nova Scotia for the physicians’ health and dental plan and other benefits.
“Ultimately, we believe this government is in breach of contract with physicians,” said Dr. Bernard.
In June 2016, physicians ratified both the Master Agreement contract and the Clinical/Academic Funding Plan (C/AFP) contract. The Master Agreement contract serves as the basis for APP contracts.
In the past 12 months, government has unilaterally deviated from the previously negotiated APP contract templates. In some cases, government has removed important clauses, including references to the Master Agreement. In other cases, government has asked physicians to sign just a “deliverables” document, with no accompanying contract. These changes create uncertainty and could put physicians at unnecessary risk of losing protections negotiated through the Master Agreement.
In addition, in the last 12 months the government has not made any payments for physicians’ health benefits as agreed to in the Master Agreement contract. To date, the government owes more than $4 million to Doctors Nova Scotia for these programs. These funds are used to support the physicians’ health and dental plan, parental leave and professional support program.
“Without these payments from the government, Doctors Nova Scotia has had to deplete the contingency fund that enables us to maintain these important health programs for doctors,” said Nancy MacCready-Williams, CEO of Doctors Nova Scotia. “We find ourselves in this situation because the government has taken exception to the association legally retaining a contingency fund for the benefits programs we administer under our contracts with government.”
As part of good governance and a prudent fiscal management strategy, the Doctors Nova Scotia Board of Directors had built up a contingency fund over the course of several years, to ensure that physicians’ benefits are protected from changes in the political and health-care environments.
“Ultimately, we are working to protect the rights of physicians so that they can focus on what they do best: delivering the best possible care to the people of Nova Scotia,” said Nancy MacCready-Williams. “By resolving these issues, we will help make the environment more welcoming, an important step in resolving the province’s current physician recruitment and retention shortages.”
Doctors Nova Scotia aims to resolve these contract issues in order to clear the air with the provincial government. Then, all parties will be able to move on to solve some of the health-care system’s more significant challenges, as outlined in Doctors Nova Scotia’s recent report “Healing Nova Scotia: Recommendations for a Thriving Physician Workforce.”
“These contract issues are a distraction from the real work we all need to do to strengthen Nova Scotia’s health-care system,” said Dr. Bernard. “Putting these issues in the hands of the courts allow us to focus on what’s really important: our patients.”