May 27, 2019 5:24 pm

Many not optimistic as Nova Scotia, province’s doctors enter negotiations

WATCH: Criticism of the provincial government's negotiation strategies have many wary of a positive result for a new agreement with Nova Scotia doctors. Jeremy Keefe has more.

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As negotiations between the provincial government and its physicians get underway, many are not optimistic that a positive outcome will be reached.

Doctors in the province are looking for solutions to concerns over pay, being overworked and a lack of collaboration with the government — all of which they believe is a necessity to improve a dire healthcare system.

But based in part on previous negotiations between the two parties or the province and other groups, some aren’t optimistic about striking a positive deal quickly, or perhaps at all.

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“Doctors would like to work in partnership with government, to leave the lawyers and real adversarial aspects of any kind of conversation out of the picture,” explained Dr. Ajantha Jayabarathan, a Halifax-based family doctor.

“We would like government to listen to the ideas and innovations that those of us on the frontlines have come up with that we know that we can work with and would work for us in Nova Scotia.”

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Creating better working conditions for existing Nova Scotia doctors and a landscape that would encourage more professionals to practice in the province comes down to government collaborating with those on the frontlines, said Jayabarathan.

That could include revisiting how physicians are compensated, as many are feeling overworked and underpaid for their service.

“Doctors were crying out that they were not making enough money to keep their lights on and when we went into the first set of negotiations, we all recognized maybe put us on salary, help us work with teams,” she explained. “We were really very interested that government would do that through the negotiations with Doctors Nova Scotia and here we are — that didn’t happen.

“I’m not sure that it’s going to happen with this negotiation either.”

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PC Leader Tim Houston believes “strong-arm” negotiation tactics won’t serve Nova Scotians well in this back-and-forth.

He says that considering the provincial government’s track record and the challenging provincial healthcare system, it’s difficult to be optimistic about their talks.

“The history of this Liberal government’s negotiation patterns, they tell their own story,” Houston said. “From what we’ve seen they’re not good negotiators, they’re not respectful negotiators,” Houston said.

The PC leader admits that making Nova Scotia doctors the highest paid in the country isn’t exactly feasible, but he also doesn’t think that’s the tipping point.

He says improving the working relationship is key to creating a better working environment and conditions that would make the province more enticing to doctors.

“The healthcare outcomes in this province are deteriorating,” Houston said. “There’s no easy fix but we have to stop the deterioration and get some positive momentum.

“The first step to doing that is to treat them with respect,” he said.

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Heather Fairbairn, media relations advisor for the Department of Labour Relations, said the government’s goal in negotiations is to establish “fair and competitive compensation for doctors” that works for health care workers and supports health care services in the province.

“We’ve done a lot of preparation work for the negotiations to ensure we have good data that shows how compensation in Nova Scotia compares to that in other jurisdictions,” Fairbairn said in an emailed statement.

“Nova Scotia is one of the provinces with the greatest options for alternative payment options for doctors. We know there is an increasing demand for alternative payment options and we are interested in how we can expand and make this more responsive to the needs of physicians and the community. This includes discussions on what’s called a blended cap model. We believe the negotiations to-date have been constructive and we’ve appreciated the discussion and input received around the table.”

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