Doctors' group warns new fee deal will send patient wait times through the roof

TORONTO – A group of doctors accused the Ontario Medical Association of “complete surrender” Thursday in its negotiations with the government on a new fee agreement, and warned the deal will have a devastating impact on patient care.

The advocacy group “Concerned Ontario Doctors,” which says it represents thousands of physicians, worries the deal the OMA signed July 11 will lead to longer wait lists for patients while operating rooms and diagnostic machines sit idle.

“I consider this to be a complete surrender,” said Dr. David Jacobs, a radiologist, chair of diagnostic imaging for the OMA, and a member of the association’s negotiations advisory committee.

“I think any document that limits patient access to care is a surrender.”

The OMA’s 275-member elected council voted for binding arbitration to settle what Jacobs called the “war” between doctors and the Liberal government, but he said OMA negotiators dropped that demand to reach a deal with the Ministry of Health.

Doctors’ representatives were not consulted by the OMA about the new fee agreement, which will send wait times for surgeries, MRI, CT scans and other diagnostic procedures “through the roof,” added Jacobs.

“The negotiations advisory committee was informed of the resumption of negotiations, the termination of negotiations and the production of a new physician services agreement all within five minutes,” he said.

However, OMA president Dr. Virginia Walley said the government refused to budge on binding arbitration, so negotiators took what they considered the best deal possible so the association could continue its charter challenge in court for the right to arbitration in future fee disputes.

“We continue to argue strongly for binding arbitration, but in the meantime this agreement provides stability for patients, stability for the system and stability for physician practices,” Walley said in an interview.

“Our OMA board thought it was the best way forward in the current fiscal climate and the current situation.”

Dr. Kulvinder Gill, an immunologist, urged doctors to reject the tentative four-year deal, which would will increase the $11.5-billion physician services budget by 2.5 per cent a year, to $12.9 billion by 2020. But Gill is concerned the OMA council could overrule any vote by doctors rejecting the deal and ratify it anyway.

“We have asked what percentage would be required for the OMA to require a ‘no’ vote and we haven’t had an answer,” Gill said Thursday.

The OMA’s elected council will consider the results of the “referendum” by physicians, which is not binding, as it decides whether the agreement should be ratified or rejected, said Walley.

“I have no doubt they will make a wise decision when they meet and deliberate on Aug. 6,” she said.

The OMA said the deal provides an additional $750 million in predictable base funding for physicians and guarantees there will be no additional cuts for this year.

The agreement also sets out $200 million in “permanent reductions in fees of physician payments,” the OMA said in a confidential memo sent to the province’s doctors that was obtained by The Canadian Press.

Health Minister Eric Hoskins issued a release saying the physicians services agreement will strengthen the long-term sustainability of the health-care system and increase access, quality and timeliness of care.

The Ministry of Health said wait times are down substantially in emergency rooms, for radiation treatment and surgeries for cancer patients, and for cataract surgeries, hip and knee replacements, and MRI and CT scans.