New Brunswick

N.B. doctors suspended for being unvaccinated show no signs of backing down

For 10 weeks now, doctors in New Brunswick who refused to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination have not been able to practise medicine, and an untold number of their patients are still in the lurch.   

Thousands of orphaned patients are still waiting for a promised referral system

Ed Schollenberg, registrar of New Brunswick's College of Physicians and Surgeons, hoped physicians would have based their decisions around getting vaccinated on science. (CBC)

For 10 weeks now, doctors in New Brunswick who refused to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination have not been able to practise medicine, and an untold number of their patients are still in the lurch.   

Eleven doctors are suspended, including two specialists. The rest are family physicians.

According to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of New Brunswick, not one suspended doctor has backed down. 

"It's very frustrating," said Dr. Ed Schollenberg, the college's registrar.

"We would have hoped physicians would have been more scientifically based in their decisions,  but that's unfortunately not what we're seeing now."

Amanda Peacock, a 26-year-old daycare worker, says she was a patient of Dr. Dianne Stackhouse, whose practice in Fredericton and Cambridge-Narrows has been closed.

Peacock said she feels conflicted. She believes everyone has the right to make decisions about their own bodies. She is also 100 per cent for the vaccine "and making sure we're safe."

‘I’m not mad at Dianne,’ former patient Amanda Peacock, 26, says of Dr. Dianne Stackhouse. ‘She has the right to her own body.’ (Submitted by Amanda Peacock)

Some turn to virtual care platform

Peacock, who has asthma, said she had to "figure out fast" how to get prescriptions for inhalers. She turned to an online service called Maple that allows her to communicate with doctors by text. 

However, she said, her plan to get pregnant is on hold. 

Peacock and her husband had been on the cusp of getting a referral to a specialist for infertility treatment. 

They had scheduled an appointment with Stackhouse late in December. Peacock said it was cancelled, and they only found out the day before. 

Stackhouse declined to be interviewed by CBC News about why she's refusing the COVID vaccine.

Patients who call her clinic in Cambridge-Narrows still get the answering service and a recorded message that says, "Dr. Stackhouse is not retiring and continues to fight to be reinstated." 

Duncan Milne of Fredericton said he would still be going to Stackhouse if he could. 

"Given a choice between having a physician that was not vaccinated or no physician, I would take the physician that was not vaccinated," said Milne, 73. 

"At least that gives me medical care. And I'm willing to take my chances with catching COVID. I'm fully vaccinated."

Duncan Milne says he’d rather have an unvaccinated doctor than no doctor at all. (Joe McDonald/CBC)

Milne thinks he has no hope of ever getting another family physician to help him with his chronic conditions, such as diabetes. He wants the suspensions to end.

"They threw thousands of people back onto the waiting list for doctors," he said. 

40,000 patients waiting

Three months ago, New Brunswick Health Minister Dorothy Shephard said a new referral system would be in place by early 2022 for the more than 40,000 New Brunswickers waiting to be assigned to a primary care provider.

It would allow people on the Patient Connect NB waiting list to schedule an in-person or virtual appointment with a family doctor or nurse practitioner.

Enough doctors had stepped forward to make it work, Shephard said. The system would be able to offer 375 appointments per week. 

CBC News asked for an update on the project's status.

A spokesperson for the Health Department said it hasn't launched yet. 

"The Primary Care Network has not yet been launched, but the work is ongoing," wrote communications director Bruce Macfarlane in an email.

Macfarlane says the department is in discussion with the Extra-Mural Program and Ambulance New Brunswick on certain aspects of the program. 

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