Recently, one of my medical school classmates (now a cardiologist) was awarded the Society of Thoracic Surgeons top rating for patient care outcomes. A great honour for her, and well deserved. Unfortunately for the rest of us, she practices in South Dakota, one of the many physicians who left Ontario during the protracted battles with Ontario Governments in the 1990s.
Back then, as I mentioned in my first blog, many health ministers continued to insist that physicians in Ontario were the highest paid in all of North America. Yet we lost physicians in droves. The reality is that while physicians wanted to be paid a fair wage (who doesn't?), what they really wanted was to have a say in how health care was delivered and be able to advocate for their patients.
So when the then Ontario government of Bob "Super Elite" Rae made unilateral decisions about health care, physicians left for jurisdictions where they were paid less (according to then Health Ministers Frances Lankin and Ruth Grier). But at least they had a say in how health care was delivered.
I mention this because it appears that current Ontario Health Minister "Unilateral Eric" Hoskins and his Deputy Health Minister Bob Bell have been unable to grasp this fundamental concept. Hoskins (and, to a lesser extent, Bell) have based their whole political strategy on portraying the dispute in the media as one of doctors wanting endless sums of money. If only the doctors would take less, the health-care system would improve. They appear unable to grasp the fact that doctors VALUE the ability to advocate for their patients and contribute to health care decision making.
From a purely political point of view, the strategy had some benefits for Hoskins and Bell. They were able to pass both the Patients First Act and the Protecting Patients Act. There was muted public response because they were able to portray physician opposition to these Acts as physicians protecting their incomes. The fact that the Patients First Act does nothing but increase bureaucracy and that the Protecting Patients Act actually violates Charter Rights of all health-care workers, and will likely be the focus of a Charter challenge, meant nothing to Hoskins and Bell. Good PR in the face of mounting, repeated, ongoing evidence of the collapsing health-care system was all they wanted.
Surely the Hoskins/Bell duo thought their troubles were behind them when the OMA ratified the BA framework. Not so.
It must therefore have come as a shock to Hoskins and Bell when, after giving Physicians Binding Arbitration (BA), physicians actually increased their attacks on the Liberal Government mismanagement of the health-care system. Now to be clear, giving BA is not the same as awarding a contract. The Ontario Medical Association still has to negotiate a contract for physicians.
But central to Hoskins and Bell's way of thinking was that all physicians cared about is money. And the spectre of BA does force both parties to negotiate fairly.
Also in fairness, it's pretty evident that Hoskins himself didn't want to give physicians BA. Not only did he deride physicians for asking for it and fight it in cabinet, but when the Ontario government sent a press release indicating they want to return to negotiations with the OMA with the first order of business being to develop a BA framework, it came from the premier's office, not Hoskins' office.
Regardless, surely the Hoskins/Bell duo thought their troubles were behind them when the OMA ratified the BA framework. Not so.
Also, a grassroots group of doctors have now begun tweeting multiple barbs at the Liberals. Saying that doctors are required to put the pieces of health care together, they've used inventive and creative images to drive home the point that the Liberals don't know what they are doing in health care.
Finally, OMA President Dr. Shawn Whatley openly wrote in his blog that physicians need to be champions, not doormats, and fight for health care for their patients. Surely poor Hoskins and Bell never expected this when they actually gave the OMA a path to a fair contract via BA. Goes to show you just how much they misjudged physicians' desire to advocate for their patients and for a fair health-care system for all of us.
Hoskins and Bell are now, as the old joke goes, officially "post turtles." This joke compares a (usually inept) politician to a turtle balancing on a fence post. You know he didn't get there by himself, he doesn't belong there, he doesn't know what to do while he's up there, and you just want to help the poor thing get off the post.
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne basically has little choice now. Hoskins and Bell are just too easy targets for the mess that they've made of health care and the way they've badly misread physicians passion for protecting their patients. The differences are irreconcilable.
Hoskins is the easier of the two to deal with. Wynne needs to shuffle her cabinet and move Hoskins on to minister of sanitation or something.
Bell, being an employee, has certain rights and can't just be fired. However, the anonymous surveys done by Quantum Transformation Technologies indicating how unhappy his own bureaucrats are should be enough evidence for Wynne to order a formal administrative review of the senior management team at the ministry of health. Maybe they can be salvaged with administrative coaching.
But what's clear is that as the health system fails, Wynne needs front line physicians to help put its pieces back together. Wynne needs to regain their trust. The way to do that is to bring tangible change to the leadership of the ministry of health.
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