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Anesthesiologists urged to declare intentions today

Mar 27 2012

A Vancouver law firm representing B.C. health authorities has sent a letter to the province's anesthesiologists, requesting that they respond by 5 p.m. today on whether they will carry through with a plan to withdraw their services on elective surgeries as of April 2.

The letter is the latest volley in a long-simmering contract dispute between the roughly 400 anesthesiologists, the B.C. Medical Association and the province. The letters were sent to individual anesthesiologists rather than the B.C. Anesthesiologists' Society so that society members can be heard, said a Vancouver lawyer representing the health authorities on Monday.

"We're really hopeful the position of individual anesthesiologists will be different from their executive," Penny Washington, of the firm Bull, Housser & Tubber, said at a press conference Monday.

The letter reminds the physicians of their responsibilities to their employer and to patients.

"Should you participate in a withdrawal of services in the circumstances, you will be in violation of your ethical and professional responsibilities as a physician and your obligations as a member of the active medical staff," Washington says in the letter.

In accepting positions with medical staff, the anesthesiologists accepted an obligation to provide continuing patient care, the letter says.

Those who withdraw patient services could be sued for breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty, Washington said.

Anesthesiologists could personally be expected to pay for costs and expenses related to the cancelled surgeries, she said.

Should the threatened withdrawal of services go ahead on April 2, the province will go to court within two or three days, seeking an injunction and a claim for damages due to breach of contract.

The province is also considering bringing out-of-province anesthesiologists to B.C. to fill any gaps left by the job action.

The three-page letter was delivered to B.C. anesthesiologists Monday, concluding with the line: "I will not be participating in the withdrawal of services scheduled to commence April 2, 2012." Beneath that is space for the recipients' signatures and hospital affiliations.

Dr. Robert Halpenny, chief executive officer of Interior Health Authority, told reporters that he and the other CEOs have been meeting on a daily basis over the last week.

All health authorities have sent out letters advising 72,000 patients - including 526 on Vancouver Island - who are scheduled for elective surgeries that there might be delays.


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