Some N.B. patients learning their unvaccinated doctors have been suspended

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A Fredericton man says the decision to suspend New Brunswick doctors who are unvaccinated against COVID-19 is heavy-handed and has left him without medical care.

Duncan Milne is diabetic and has borderline kidney function, but he says he only found out his doctor was suspended when the hospital in Fredericton called to say his scheduled blood tests had been cancelled.

“Here I am with chronic conditions without a doctor,” Milne said in an interview Wednesday.

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Milne was a patient of Dr. Diane Stackhouse. She could not be reached for comment, but a recording on her office line confirmed her clinic will be closed until further notice.

“Dr. Stackhouse is in the group of physicians who have been suspended due to not receiving the COVID shot,” the message says. “Please know that Dr. Stackhouse is not against receiving the COVID shot. She is simply waiting for a safer one to be available.” The message suggests patients call a provincial health line as soon as possible to get on a waiting list for another physician.

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Milne tried to rebook his blood tests through his internal medicine specialist but discovered that doctor had also been suspended for the same reason.

Doctors were advised of the requirement to be fully vaccinated well in advance of the Dec. 1 suspensions by the College of Physicians and Surgeons. College registrar Dr. Ed Schollenberg said fewer than 10 of the 1,900 doctors in the province are unvaccinated.

“So far none have changed their mind. A few want to wait for the next vaccine,” he wrote in an email. “Unfortunately the docs we warned made little or no effort to assist their patients.” Schollenberg wouldn’t name the affected doctors but said they are spread over the province.

The decision to suspend the doctors is supported by the New Brunswick Medical Society.

“It is important that New Brunswickers are safe and interact with a vaccinated physician,” society president Dr. Mark MacMillan said in an interview Wednesday. “We do take care of some of the sickest people in the province, and it is our duty to protect them as best as we can and to do so requires vaccination against COVID-19.”

MacMillan said he’s not concerned the actions of a few doctors are sending a negative message. “Less than 10 out of approximately 2,000 physicians have chosen, for whatever reason, to not have the vaccination,” he said. “We are in the highest level of any profession or organization for vaccination. That’s a positive message right now.”

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But Milne said suspending the doctors is punishing patients like him, and alternative measures should have been considered.

“Just to cut us off was ridiculous,” he said. “They could have limited the doctors to telephone appointments. There were options. They seem to have just picked the most heavy-handed one to try to bring these guys in line.” Milne said he and his wife are vaccinated and they should have the choice to see their doctor, even if the doctor is not vaccinated.

Meanwhile, in neighbouring Nova Scotia, Health Minister Michelle Thompson confirmed that a small number of doctors had not provided proof of vaccination by the province’s Nov. 30 deadline, although she said she didn’t know the exact number.

“My understanding is that there is a very small number of physicians who chose not to be vaccinated and had privileges temporarily suspended until that status is different,” Thompson said Thursday.

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The minister said she believes that doctors and other health professionals who are unvaccinated have an ethical responsibility to disclose their status to their patients “so that those people can make an informed choice.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 9, 2021.

– With files from Keith Doucette in Halifax

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