Ontario doctors quit clinics to protest new fee

October 11, 2012 - All News

Waiting lists for colonoscopies and other procedures under anesthetic at out-of-hospital facilities like Toronto’s Kensington Screening Clinic are growing as doctors resign to protest a new $825 fee levied on them.
Almost 1,300 doctors across the province have received bills from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, the self-regulatory body for MDs, which is using the cash to help fund inspections of the clinics.
At the Kensington clinic on College St., 11 anesthetists and five endoscopists who work part-time have quit, saying the fee that took effect Oct. 1 is an “extra burden that is too much to absorb,” said chief executive Brian McFarlane.
As many as 20 per cent of colonoscopy appointments have been cancelled in the last few days.
“We’re trying to cover it off with the ones that are staying but it’s challenging,” McFarlane added.
“We’re working actively to resolve the issue.”
The College of Physicians and Surgeons said the $1 million tab for annual inspections was funded by billings to about 300 clinics across the province, but the system was changed recently to put spread the cost among doctors because of complaints from clinic directors.
“The amount of money we’re collecting is the same,” said college spokeswoman Kathryn Clarke. “It is a cost-recovery program.”
She confirmed the college has received pushback from physicians and said a consulting firm has been hired to review the “fairness” of the fee.
It comes as doctors are engulfed in what have been tense negotiations with the provincial government on a new contract through the Ontario Medical Association, which recently resumed bargaining with the Health Ministry.
OMA president Dr. Doug Weir said he’s concerned the inspection fee will hurt efforts by Health Minister Deb Matthews to move more medical procedures from hospitals into community clinics to cut costs — which the association supports.
“I’m hearing a lot about this from doctors,” he told the Star, calling on the government to help cover “excessive” inspection fees.
“In other communities, like Ottawa, there have been large numbers of anesthetists who may only go in to a clinic to work once a month and they’re being charged this fee,” Weir added.
They find it “annoying” and a disincentive to work at out-of-hospital clinics, he said, noting the fees they are paid for “conscious sedation” of patients were unilaterally cut by Matthews on April 1 as part of efforts to save $338 million a year.
The fee for conscious sedation for colonoscopies, cataracts and similar procedures was cut in half to about $60 and fees for complete colonoscopies were cut to $197 from $218.90.
“The college has to do something,” Weir urged. “It’s going to make wait lists longer.”
A spokewoman for Matthews said the college is independent and the government won’t step in.
“It is the CPSO’s responsibility to work with physicians to ensure that these facilities are safe, and to determine the fees associated with inspection programs,” Zita Astravas said in an email.
— Torstar News Service