Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Flu program delays deal for psychiatrists — minister

An article published in today's edition of The Chronicle Herald:
By David Jackson, Provincial Reporter

Health Minister Maureen MacDonald [pictured] said Tuesday her department’s focus on swine flu has delayed a new deal for metro-area psychiatrists.

Half a dozen doctors were at Province House to draw attention to the department missing an Oct. 31 deadline for an agreement.

Dr. Nick Delva, the Capital district health authority’s chief of psychiatry and the head of Dalhousie medical school’s psychiatry department, said he thinks a deal could get done in a week to 10 days.

But with the biggest immunization program in provincial history underway, that’s not a time frame Ms. MacDonald is looking at.

"I think it’s pretty clear what I’m looking at in the next 10 days, and it’s not sitting down and doing collective bargaining, sadly," said Ms. MacDonald, who has been under opposition fire for the government’s handling of the H1N1 vaccine rollout.

"We will get to this issue as soon as we can, but we are dealing with a public health emergency in the province, and that’s where our focus has to be for the time being."

The psychiatrists had a memorandum of understanding with the previous government and Doctors Nova Scotia to get an agreement, called an academic funding plan, done by the end of October. The last one expired more than three years ago.

Dr. Delva said the new arrangement would add about $3 million in annual costs to about a $20-million budget. That covered 70 full-time-equivalent positions at 1,840 hours each per year, but Dr. Delva said psychiatrists have done a lot of work for free.

"We were providing far, far more hours (of) clinical work and far more hours (of) academic work than this," he said. "We did it for free for a number of years, and it was an unsustainable situation."

Aileen Brunet, a forensic psychiatrist and president of the Nova Scotia Psychiatric Association, said doctors won’t support the province’s new mental health court until an agreement is done.

The court starts sitting Thursday, with four cases scheduled. The Justice Department plans to pay for a private psychiatrist, if necessary, before an agreement is finalized. Dr. Brunet said psychiatrists would never withdraw services they are already providing, but they won’t be offering new ones until the deal is in place.

Premier Darrell Dexter said in question period that he expects a new deal to be done soon.

Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil said the Dexter government doesn’t seem to have a plan for mental health services.

"Clearly, what happened here today is the premier said one thing on the floor of the House, and the minister said something quite different outside. They’re not on the same page. Who’s telling the truth?"

Also see:

Psychiatrists threaten to skip mental health court

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