Doctors say Newfoundland and Labrador's health minister needs a lesson on the different roles that health care providers play and they fear his recent comments are a threat to patient care.

"We are concerned that Dr. Haggie's comments clearly indicate that this government has an agenda to reduce patient access to family doctors in this province," said Lynn Dwyer, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association (NLMA).

'Family physicians have been very angry, very disappointed. They feel devalued.' - Lynn Dwyer

"His superficial remarks reveal he either misunderstands the role that family doctors play in the health care system or he has a complete disregard for the value of this profession," said Dwyer, a family physician in St. John's.

"Either way, Dr. Haggie needs education on how family practice works in this province." 

The offending comment

The medical association is reacting to a comment Haggie made to CBC News in an interview about plans to integrate midwives into the province's health care system.

"The whole big discussion point in health care is around scopes of practice. We have significant resources that could take a big part of the health care delivery away from a physician-centred model," he said.

"Eighty per cent of a general, normal day's work for a family practitioner can be managed perfectly well and in some respects with a better outcome by nurse practitioners, for example."


Health Minister John Haggie told CBC that up to 80 per cent of a family doctor's work could probably be done by a nurse practicioner. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

Haggie worked as a surgeon in central Newfoundland for many years. He is a past-president of both the NLMA and the Canadian Medical Association.

Dwyer said these comments provoked strong reactions from many of the association's members, including some who took Haggie to task on Twitter.

"Family physicians have been very angry, very disappointed. They feel devalued that the work that they are doing in the province is not being recognized by the minister of health," she said.

"It's very disrespectful for the minister to be so dismissive of the care that myself and other physicians in this province provide." 

Contract negotiations coming

Dwyer said Haggie's comments are particularly disturbing because doctors expect to begin negotiations for a new contract in the coming weeks.

"I think that this is going to have a very negative impact on our negotiations.We need to be working as teams and not pitting one discipline against another.

Haggie responded to the NLMA in an email that was sent to CBC.

"This discussion is about how to get the right care from the right provider," he said.

"We need physicians working at their highest level of skill, dealing with complex problems, just as we need nurse practitioners working at their greatest level of expertise."

John Abbott-health

John Abbott, Newfoundland and Labrador's deputy minister of health, caused a stir in late 2017 by comments about the need to reduce expenses in the department. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

Late last year, the province's deputy minister of health made similar comments.

"We are looking at each service, each facility, each program and each professional group to determine how we can deliver that service at a lower cost and to improve outcomes," said John Abbott.