Nfld. & Labrador

N.L. doctors ratify new agreement with provincial government

NLMA members have voted to accept an agreement that includes between $32 million and $36 million in new government spending and a new payment model for family physicians.

Agreement comes after months of contentious negotiations

Members of the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association have accepted a new agreement with the provincial government just over a month after the tentative agreement was announced. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

Newfoundland and Labrador doctors have accepted a new agreement with the provincial government after four years without a contract and more than a year of contentious negotiations.

In a media release Friday afternoon, the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association announced that 72.5 per cent of its members voted in favour of the agreement, which will see between $32 million and $36 million in new government spending on physician services.

"We have made significant progress with this new agreement that I believe will help make the province a more attractive place for our medical graduates to live and work," said NLMA president Dr. Susan MacDonald.

The NLMA and the provincial government tentatively made the agreement at the end of December. Now that NLMA membership has voted in favour, the association and the government will be able to finalize the deal, which will be in effect until Sept. 30, 2023.

The agreement brings months of public back-and-forth between the NLMA and government officials to a close. In October, the NLMA backed out of contract negotiations and accused the government of "divide and conquer" tactics.

At the time, MacDonald said the government wasn't doing enough for physician recruitment and retention, and also criticized plans to change provincial legislation to remove the requirement for physicians to be members of the NLMA.

According to the NLMA, more than 98,000 Newfoundland and Labrador residents are without a family physician. MacDonald said the new agreement should help improve that doctor shortage.

"Re-establishing competitive levels of compensation is a step in the right direction and will help the province recruit new doctors and retain existing ones," said MacDonald in the release.

In a news release, provincial Finance Minister Siobhan Coady said she is pleased that the agreement has been ratified.

"Both the negotiating teams from government and the medical association worked diligently to create an agreement that delivers what is in the best interest of the people of the province as well as the physicians who care for us all," she said.

Health Minister John Haggie said the government is still working on the health professional recruitment office announced last fall, and is planning to hire an assistant deputy minister of recruitment in the Department of Health.

New spending, new payment model

The new spending is a seven to eight per cent increase in the province's budget for physician services.

Pay increases will be based on specialty and service, and some increases will be larger than others. Psychiatrists will see an 18 per cent pay increase, while family doctors will be paid about 13 per cent more. Internal medicine physicians will be paid between 2.8 and 10.2 per cent more.

The government and the NLMA are also adding a new blended capitation payment model for family physicians.

The details are still being worked out, but the new model will allow physicians to be paid per patient, rather than per patient visit. According to the NLMA, the model will help retain graduates from Memorial University's faculty of medicine and promote more comprehensive care for patients.

The agreement also includes a new bonus for physicians working in remote parts of the province, as well as a new program that will provide support for doctors filling in for other physicians.

MacDonald said the new agreement is significant progress and will make the province more attractive to medical graduates, though she cautioned that there is more work to do to attract and retain physicians.

"Compensation is only one part of the solution. The government's commitments to provide new recruitment incentives and more effective marketing and recruitment strategies are absolutely essential."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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