Emergency room doctors in the Halifax area are getting a 21 per cent raise, a move that negotiators say will keep doctors in the province.

Under a three-year agreement reached on May 31, doctors will earn $190 per hour, retroactive to April 1, 2010. They had been earning an hourly rate of $156.

The hourly rate will be increased to $192 effective April 1, 2012, according to a copy of the agreement released by the Department of Health and Wellness. The rate for 2013 has not been finalized.

"We were keenly aware of pressures in the Atlantic region," said Kevin Chapman, a director of health policy for Doctors Nova Scotia.

He added New Brunswick had recently started to pay its physicians $190 an hour.

"One of the choices we had to make was to try and ensure that Nova Scotia residents have access to emergency room physicians who are able to provide the emergency room care they need and as a consequence of that, to do that, we had to ensure that we were competitive," he said.

The agreement covers emergency room doctors who work for the Capital District Health Authority — the largest health authority in Nova Scotia — and the IWK Health Centre. Doctors who work at Dalhousie University's medical school are also covered.

Chapman said the province needed to be competitive because emergency room doctors have no regular patient lists, offices or other professional ties and can pack up and move to another province at anytime.

Nova Scotia also agreed to fund more hours of physician coverage. At the Halifax Infirmary site of the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre, at least 76 hours of coverage will be required. It represents an increase of six hours.

It's unclear how the raise for the physicians will affect ongoing contract negotiations for nurses in the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union.

Many health-care workers represented by the union have settled for the cash-strapped government's austerity offer of one per cent. Nurses in the NSGEU are now voting on whether they'll settle a contract dispute through binding arbitration.

Joan Jessome, the president of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union, represents workers who received a one per cent raise as well as the nurses in the middle of their negotiations.

"What's happening to doctors in Capital Health certainly, I don't think, will hurt us," she told CBC News.

"But it's not going to create a workplace that people want to go to because there are so many people who have already received one per cent."

Jessome said many nurses may expect the provincial government to be generous with their raises, considering the raises given to the emergency room physicians.