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Doctors Nova Scotia sues government over contract breaches

December 4, 2017

Doctors Nova Scotia has filed Notices of Application with the Nova Scotia Supreme Court to settle two contract issues with the provincial government. Attempts over the past 14 months to resolve these contract issues outside of the courts have failed. 

“It’s clear to the province’s doctors that government has breached our contract and despite our attempts to resolve the issues outside of the courts, government officials have been unprepared to do so,” said Dr. André Bernard, Doctors Nova Scotia’s Board Chair. “At a time when our province is struggling to recruit physicians and keep the ones we already have, government’s refusal to honour its contractual commitments sends a poor message to doctors. We hope this action demonstrates to physicians already practising in the province – and to those who might consider coming here – that we are committed to standing up for physicians’ interests.”

Under dispute are the government’s use of unapproved contracts for Alternative Payment Plan (APP) physicians and monies owed to Doctors Nova Scotia for the physicians’ health and dental plan and other benefits.

Doctors Nova Scotia served government with notices of intended action on Oct. 3, 2017, which provided the two months’ notice required before these Notices of Application could be filed with the Court. In that time, government did not take the opportunity to resolve the issues outside of the Court.

Public polling suggests that Nova Scotians strongly support Doctors Nova Scotia’s position. In a telephone poll conducted by Corporate Research Associates in October:

  • Eighty-three percent of Nova Scotians support Doctors Nova Scotia asking the courts to settle the issue of Government not following previously agreed upon contract terms for Nova Scotia’s doctors.
  • Eighty-six percent of Nova Scotians support Doctors Nova Scotia asking the courts to settle the issue of government withholding monies owed to Doctors Nova Scotia for physicians’ health benefits. 
  • According to polling, support for physicians stems from the public feeling the agreements should be honoured and the disputes settled to address the need for more doctors in the province. In the case of physicians’ health benefits, support also stems from perceptions of doctors deserving the benefits and needing to be fairly compensated.  

“It’s not our first choice to proceed this way, but here we are,” said Mrs. MacCready-Williams. “Ultimately, we are working to protect the rights of physicians so that they can focus on what they do best: delivering the best possible care to the people of Nova Scotia,” she added. 

Doctors Nova Scotia aims to resolve these contract issues in order to clear the air with the provincial government so that all parties can move on to solve some of the health-care system’s more significant challenges, as outlined in Doctors Nova Scotia’s recent report “Healing Nova Scotia: Recommendations for a Thriving Physician Workforce.” 

“These contract issues are a distraction from the real work we all need to do to strengthen Nova Scotia’s health-care system,” said Dr. Bernard. “Proceeding with the lawsuit allows us to focus on what’s really important: our patients.” 

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CRA survey data

Contact:
Barb Johnson, Doctors Nova Scotia
902-481-4915 or 902-483-6462 (m)


About Doctors Nova Scotia
Doctors Nova Scotia is the oldest medical association in Canada. Its membership represents over 3,500 physicians, including practising and retired physicians, medical students and residents.

Contract background
The contract issues stem from June 2016, when physicians ratified both the Master Agreement contract and the Clinical/Academic Funding Plan (C/AFP) contract. The Master Agreement contract serves as the basis for APP contracts. 

Over the past year, government has unilaterally deviated from the previously negotiated APP contract templates. In some cases, government has removed important clauses, including references to the Master Agreement. In other cases, government has asked physicians to sign just a “deliverables” document, with no accompanying contract. These changes create uncertainty and could put physicians at unnecessary risk of losing protections negotiated through the Master Agreement.

In addition, government did not make any payments in the first year of the contract for physicians’ health benefits as agreed to in the Master Agreement contract. The contract clearly states government will reimburse Doctors Nova Scotia based on monthly invoicing, however, for a full twelve months, not a single invoice was paid. Government owes more than $4 million to Doctors Nova Scotia for these programs. These funds are used to support the physicians’ health and dental plan, parental leave and professional support program.  

Without these payments from the government, Doctors Nova Scotia had to deplete the contingency fund that enables the association to maintain these important health programs for doctors. Payments resumed once the contingency fund reached zero, this is because the government has taken exception to the association legally retaining a contingency fund for the benefits programs we administer under our contracts with government.

As part of good governance and a wise fiscal management strategy, the Doctors Nova Scotia Board of Directors had built up a contingency fund over the course of several years, to ensure that physicians’ benefits are protected from changes in the political and health-care environments. 

Twice in the past two years, Doctors Nova Scotia has had to use the contingency fund to maintain these programs for doctors, which demonstrates it is needed. In the first instance, government repaid the contingency fund.