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From guardian angels to greedy golfers

The subtext of Legault’s frontal assault on physicians like Pelletier is that his government also happens to be renegotiating the way Quebec pays family doctors. And playing hardball is a speciality of the premier’s. When he was the Parti Québécois’ health minister at the beginning of his political career, Legault tried to impose a 30 per cent pay cut on doctors who didn’t meet certain performance requirements.

His plan never saw the light of day.

Isabelle Leblanc agrees that Quebec needs to reform the way doctors are compensated. She’s part of a group that advocates for physicians to receive less money so more funds can be transferred across our public health system. But she’s appalled by what she’s heard from the premier.

By Christopher Curtis

“It wasn’t so long ago that (Legault) called us guardian angels, people fighting to protect Quebecers from COVID-19,” said Leblanc, who has a clinic in Montreal’s Côte-des-Neiges district. “Now we’re lazy and greedy. What did I miss? The reality is the government doesn’t have a solution and it needs culprits to blame.

“They’re asking us to do two things at once. On the one hand they want us to take a huge increase in patients in our clinics. On the other hand, they want us to spend up to 20 hours a week not taking patients in our clinics, helping out with overflow across the health network.”

Leblanc actually meets Legault’s requirement of being a “good” doctor. She has over 1,000 patients and, since she works in one of Quebec’s most multicultural neighbourhoods, about half of them don’t speak French or English. It takes a great deal of patience and love to provide them with the care they need, she said.

“I’m in this because I believe access to healthcare is a right, not a privilege,” she said. “I think the premier is playing a dangerous game. More and more doctors will see what the government is doing and decide not to enter family medicine. There are other fields that pay far better — there is the private sector, plastic surgery, specializations. Why would someone sign up to be the government’s punching bag?”

No magic bullet solutions

Further compounding the problem, 70 per cent of family doctors under 60 years old are women. For graduates coming out of university, that number is closer to 90 per cent, Pelletier said.

“These women have the right to start a family, and that means they won’t be able to take on 2,000 patients while raising a newborn,” Pelletier said. “The government knows this but they’re choosing to play politics with it.”

There are no magic bullet solutions to Quebec’s healthcare crisis, he said. Fixing the system requires a plan that can survive if one government falls and a new one takes its place.

“When was the last time we had a health minister with vision?” Pelletier said. “They come into the job with a list of problems they want to solve in the short term. What if we invested in our front lines? If we have a strong front line, then we’ll see less need for specialized services. That’s worked in other jurisdictions.

“If you create a provincial health agency, almost like Hydro-Québec, you can start to implement plans that don’t change every time there’s an election. But then the government gives up one of its biggest weapons: the ability to politicize healthcare in an election.”

Pétrin-Desrosiers said there are days she feels the pressure of Quebec’s ailing healthcare network.

“It’s your name on the file, your signature. When you leave your patient and go home, you ask yourself, ‘Did I do everything I could for that patient?’

“And the more you’re stretched thin, the harder that question is to answer.”

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