Danny Williams lashes out at N.L. doctors

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams has waded into a war of words between doctors and his health minister.

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams has waded into a war of words between doctors and his health minister.

"I'm going to blow another valve before this is over," Williams, who recently had heart valve surgery in the United States, told VOCM radio in St. John's on Wednesday. "It's too bad you even mentioned this."

Health Minister Jerome Kennedy angered doctors last week with his comments after an external review of the province's laboratory services described a toxic, dysfunctional work environment. Kennedy said the review, done by an Ontario doctor at the request of the Eastern Regional Health Authority, found pathologists squabbling like children.  

On Tuesday, Robert Ritter, executive director of the province's medical association, and Dr. Brendan Lewis, the group's president, said Kennedy's comments were harsh, humiliating and lacked restraint.

On Wednesday, Williams defended Kennedy.

"When I hear Ritter and Dr. Lewis, or whatever his name is, criticizing my minister of health because of comments he made after a report came in, I have to tell you, it's a good thing they didn't have a microphone in front of me last week, because Mr. Kennedy's statements would have sounded pretty timid compared to what I would have said."

Williams then talked about the province's pathologists.

"These are adult professionals who make $335,000 or more a year," Williams said. "That's a lot of money. It's a fortune and the one thing you can expect is responsible behaviour, but to be getting on like this. You know what is missing in all of this is, which is the most important thing, which is what we worry about, what the minister of health worries about, is the patient. Where's the patient in all of this? Did Mr. Ritter or Dr. Lewis, or anybody who is trying to point the finger at the minister, talk about the patient?"

Williams dismissed the medical association's comments as a "smokescreen."

"That's all it is," he said. "It's just an attempt to try to put the blame over on somebody else and ignore the fact of what is going on here. … For the people at the medical association to point fingers is ridiculous. Accept what your ethical and professional duty and get on with it and take care of the people who are sick over there at that hospital."

There has been a string of six resignations at the province's largest health authority — including two pathologists — since Eastern Health announced it had accepted the resignation of Dr. Nash Denic, as the head of laboratory services, last week. Other physicians have stepped down from management and administrative roles.

Recent problems at the health authority's biochemestry lab involve errors with tests for the immunosuppressant cyclosporine. Some patients, including a 14-year-old boy  in intensive care, received excessive doses of the drug.

The review of laboratory services was launched before the cyclosporine problem came to light.