Interior Health part of legal action against anaesthesiologists

Health authorities seeking an injunction to head off labour action.

Lawyers representing B.C. health authorities are are going to court to try and stop provincial anaesthesiologists from withdrawing service next week.

The health authorities said they launched court action in light of the B.C. Anesthesiologists’ Society threat to withdraw their services as part of a labour dispute.

Acting on behalf of the health authorities, lawyers from the law firm of Bull, Housser and Tupper LLP filed notice of civil claim and affidavits this morning, including an application for an interim injunction, which will be heard on Friday.

“The anesthesiologists have created maximum confusion for patients, our surgeons and other front-line staff around whether or not they will fulfil their ethical and legal obligations to provide patient care as we would expect them to do next week.” said Dr. Robert Halpenny, CEO and president of Interior Health, speaking on behalf of all health authorities.

“We continue to hope the BC Anesthesiologists’ Society will do the right thing and not withdraw service.”

Halpenny said anesthesiologists have made conflicting and confusing statements about whether or not they will be available next week  and at one point suggested they would only do all of next week’s procedures if many of them could be done after hours, which would undermine the health care system’s ability to provide safe, quality care.

Generally, health authorities allow additional time in their surgical slates in the evening for urgent and emergency surgeries. However, the anesthesiologists appear to be suggesting that health authorities should be reserving these times for when the anesthesiologists want to be available for routine surgeries – which could lead to delays of urgent and emergency procedures, which is simply not safe patient care.

In a letter from health authority lawyers sent on Monday, the anesthesiologists were advised that they are bound by certain rules contained in the medical staff bylaws, medical staff rules and the policies of their health authority – as are all physicians who accept a position on the medical staff. These contracts that they have entered into are binding contracts that require anesthesiologists to provide patient care.

“If any anesthesiologist participates in job action, health authorities have no option but to pursue every means possible to maintain services for patients. The health authorities’ position continues to be that any anesthesiologist who participates in service withdrawal or job action will be in breach of their contract,” added Halpenny.

The confusion the BC Anesthesiologists Society has created around their intentions to withdraw services creates significant uncertainty for patients requiring surgery. In the interim, health authorities are committed to keeping patients informed and have sent out 3,237 letters to patients advising them of the possibility that their surgeries may have to be rescheduled.

Health authorities will continue to make every effort to prevent postponing surgeries and would do so only if the anesthesiologists leave no other option. Patients requiring emergency or urgent surgery will not be postponed.