Doctors happy with tentative deal

Nanaimo physicians satisfied with the tentative agreement reached last week between the B.C. Medical Association and the province.

Some Nanaimo physicians are satisfied with the tentative agreement reached last week between the B.C. Medical Association and the province.

The proposed Physician Master Agreement, which must now be ratified by doctors provincewide over the next month and a half, provides targeted funding for initiatives in four areas: improving patient access to family physicians, enhancing care for patients with chronic conditions, increasing patient access to doctors in rural areas and improving recruitment and retention of specialists in B.C.

It includes $90 million in new money over two years, which covers a modest increase in the fee schedule and initiatives to improve services to patients, such as $20 million for specialist recruitment and retention, $10 million to expand physician services in remote communities and $18 million for improvements to primary care.

An estimated $10 million in savings through an agreement to review lab costs will bring the total spent on new services and fees to $100 million.

Funding levels for years three and four of the agreement have not been set.

Dr. Patricia Mark, a physician at the Sow’s Ear Medical Clinic in Lantzville, said her understanding is the fee increase amounts to about half a per cent for family doctors.

“We weren’t asking for a big pay rise,” she said. “These are hard economic times. We have got to be fiscally responsible. They do put in initiatives to help us.”

Initiatives such as recruiting specialists have had special funding on and off in the past and are complex issues, said Mark.

There are a few areas where Nanaimo could use some more specialists, although the city does not have the same recruitment problems seen in rural areas, she said.

Dr. Drew Digney, ER site chief at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital, said the province seems to be targeting money at programs intended to help patients access the right care.

“What I like about this agreement is it looks like it’s patient-focused,” he said. “Anything that allows us to provide high-quality care is good. I see the tone of this as being very positive.”

Digney said the investment is good news in tough economic times and he’s hoping that this bodes well for separate negotiations around ER staffing.

He is seeking about 10 more physician hours per day to cover the increase in patients over the past couple years.

Dr. Gerry Vaughan, a physician at the Wellington Medical Clinic and vice-president of the Nanaimo Division of Family Practice, said he’s relieved a deal was reached, although now it will have to be ratified by members.

The purpose of the division is to identify gaps in the continuum of primary care and work with partners to address these gaps and Vaughan said the new money contained in the agreement could help the division and its partners achieve health-care goals.

“We hope the money will be something that divisions can access,” he said.