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Doctors who announced Friday that they are resigning to protest against the provincial government's latest contract offer say they are serious about leaving Newfoundland and Labrador.

"This is not a job action. We have resigned," Dr. Sandra Luscombe, a developmental pediatrician, said at a news conference called by physicians in St. John's. "We are resigning to resign and leave. We have no illusions that this will change things for us."

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Health Minister Jerome Kennedy said Friday he has instructed staff to start recruiting replacements for the resigning physicians. ((CBC))

On Friday afternoon, Health Minister Jerome Kennedy said that the province has accepted the resignations, and that its last contract offer stands.

"These doctors have tendered their resignations and we'll instruct Eastern Health to commence the recruitment process immediately," Kennedy said at a news conference.

He said he can't believe the doctors have rejected the increase the government is proposing to pay them over four years.

"A 31 per cent increase in this economic time, in the midst of what's going on the world today, in the United States, the United Kingdom and Europe, is absolutely staggering."

The resigning doctors are upset the government is refusing to offer them the same pay increase it gave to oncologists and pathologists in the wake of the breast cancer testing scandal. In 2008, Premier Danny Williams offered some specialists, including oncologists and pathologists, a pay raise after an inquiry into the scandal concluded some specialists might leave the province.

The 13 doctors who resigned said this created a two-tier pay structure for physicians.

One doctor in the group said the departures will affect pediatric patients in the province.

"Children will have to be flown out for care," Dr. Bridget Fernandez, a medical geneticist with Eastern Health.

Seven of the doctors who quit specialize in pediatric care — those are Dr. Tracey Bridger, Dr. Laura Vivian, Dr. Leigh Ann Newhook. Dr. Debbie Reid, Dr. Rick Cooper, Dr. Mohammed Alam, and Luscombe.

The Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association, the group that represents all doctors in contract negotiations, has said it's frustrated with the pace of talks, which have gone on for nearly two years.

The association said recently that the government hasn't budged on the contract proposal it made last May. The association called that offer "insulting" to doctors, but the province proposed it again this fall.

The government offered 97 per cent pay parity with doctors in Atlantic Canada — phased in over four years from 2009 to 2013.

The province's more than 1,000 doctors would receive 40 per cent of the pay increase in the first year of the contract and 20 per cent in each of the next three years.

Physicians have said the province must significantly increase the amount it pays them if it wants to recruit and retain physicians.

The doctors' last four-year contract expired more than a year ago. The association announced in late October that it would put the government's offer to a vote in mid-November.

The resignation letters are expected to be submitted Friday and to take effect in early February.

Two other doctors, Dr.Jim Hutchinson and Dr. Dan Fontaine, announced in October that they will be leaving the province as well.