The New Brunswick Medical Society is urging doctors not to sign any contracts with the province's regional health authorities because they contain a gag order.

Mike Simon, a family doctor in Saint John, is like many of the province's 1,600 doctors, who are fiercely protective of their right to say what they think.

They are opposing any policy change from the regional health authorities that could limit their freedom of speech.

"We think we need an MRI, OK, or we think we need more surgical beds — if I can't say that, it's going to affect you," he said.

nb-michael-simon

Dr. Michael Simon said he believes doctors have an advocacy role to play. (CBC)

But every year, New Brunswick doctors must reapply to practise and sign a declaration. The new draft document "recognizes that physicians do have an advocacy role for their patients." But it also insists on confidentiality.

The medical society spoke out on the issue in June, accusing the regional health authorities of trying to muzzle doctors in an effort to avoid public criticism and embarassment.

Dr. Bob Rae, the society's former president, called the bylaws "draconian" and said doctors would not tolerate any limit to their free speech on health issues.

The group had hoped it could negotiate some changes with the health authorities. But the new draft bylaws are still too restrictive, Rae said.

"They said they would go back and they would look at revising the bylaws and then get back to us. They got back to us probably about two weeks ago, they really didn't change anything," he said.

"The wording within these bylaws and the declaration says very specifically — we can't do it, we cannot speak out and not be disciplined for speaking out."

Existing physicians will begin to reapply for their privileges in the January. If doctors protest the new bylaws by not signing, the medical society says they could start losing hospital privileges and possibly even their billing numbers, as soon as the spring.

Horizon Health Network officials declined to comment.

Critics have suggested the bylaws are a push-back following some public challenges.

Doctors in Saint John have recently spoken out against the decision to allow Canadian Blood Services to remove some of its services from New Brunswick.

They were also vocal about a lack of access to operating rooms. And, the doctors loudly opposed the government’s initial position to deny Saint John a high-resonance imaging machine called a 3T MRI.