There will be no new doctors in the territory until the government resolves a dispute that ended in the resignation of every member of the regulatory council for Yukon physicians.
All six members of the Yukon Medical Council resigned Friday after failing to reach agreement with the government on a number of issues.
“It should have been dealt with,” said Dr. Rao Tadepalli, president of the Yukon Medical Association, which is independent from the council. “It shouldn’t have gone on. What is this message going out to the public and any future doctor visiting? Oh my God, you know? No new doctor will come now, if this is the attitude of the government.”
The Yukon Medical Association is a voluntary organization that advocates on behalf of physicians in the territory.
The Yukon Medical Council is a board comprised of three local physicians, one doctor from Outside and two members of the public. Its primary responsibilities are to license doctors in the territory and to investigate patient complaints.
The council’s authority flows from the Medical Profession Act, and until those six seats are again filled, there can be no new licences granted to doctors wishing to practise in the Yukon.
The main issue of contention with the government was that the council felt it needed more resources in order to perform its job properly, said Dr. Bruce Beaton, former chair of the board.
“For the last 14 months, we’ve been working aggressively to make changes so that YMC can have its own staff, can have its own budget, can have resources to be able to tackle the jobs that it needs to,” he said.
“Finally it came to a crunch and the government said that they’re not willing to look at the Yukon Medical Council becoming more autonomous, more independent, more self-sufficient and so the medical council said that we could no longer carry on functioning the way we have been and do so responsibly, and so we felt that we had no option but to tender our resignations.”
Changes to the council’s duties came with Canada’s Agreement on Internal Trade in 1995, said Beaton.
Now, the council has to meet national standards in terms of licensing doctors, and that requires developing programs in order to meet those standards, he said.
“The territorial government wasn’t working to help us deal at the national level with the national priorities and yet we’re expected to, and we make a guarantee to the rest of Canada that we will.”
“It’s indeed regrettable with what has just transpired,” said Elaine Taylor, minister of community services, the department that oversees of the council. “It certainly is a decision that the Yukon government is taking very seriously. You know, when we look over the past 34 years, the council has worked relatively well and any issues that have arisen over those years … we’ve been able to effectively resolve through discussion and dialogue. And it’s with that history in mind that we hope to proceed from here on out.”
The next step is for the Yukon Medical Association to come up with a list of nominees for the three seats for the local physicians while the government recruits for the remaining three seats, said Taylor.
She sent a letter to the association this week asking for names as soon as possible, and by April 12 at the latest.
But Tadepalli is doubtful that the association will find volunteers to fill the seats, he said.
“We cannot have an approach saying, ‘Look, we are not fixing the problems that have led to the unanimous resignations of the medical council, we just want new folks to come up.’”
The council needs to have the resources and autonomy to ensure that Yukoners receive a high standard of care, said Tadepalli.
“Licensing is not writing on a piece of paper and giving it out, and when high-standing members of the medical profession have stepped down, that’s a message to the government to say, ‘You’re not doing it right.’”
Health Minister Doug Graham issued a statement on March 4 calling on the Yukon Medical Council to do more to get international medical graduates into the territory.
The timing was curious, given that relations with the council were already in jeopardy.
Board members first announced their resignation Feb. 1, said Beaton, and were working with the government between then and last week in an effort to find a solution that would see the council stay.
Tadepalli said at the time that Graham’s statement made little sense, as the council has not been given the resources to do what the minister had asked of them.
The government is working on several initiatives to address the doctor shortage in the territory, and it announced $8.5 million in funding towards that goal in the fall.
A spokesperson for the Health Department said in an email this month that they cannot confirm how many doctors plan to leave the territory in the coming months, or how many plan to come.
“While we are in constant contact with Outside physicians who have indicated an interest in working in Yukon, we have no firm commitments and cannot share details or numbers,” the email stated. “Health and Social Services continues to make the recruitment and retention of health-care providers a priority.”
The government is also compiling a list of Yukoners without family doctors, but has not yet released numbers.
Whitehorse alone should have three or four more family-practice doctors than we do now, said Tadepalli.
Contact Jacqueline Ronson at