MONTREAL - More than 250 doctors and residents in Quebec have asked the provincial government to backtrack on plans to give them and other physicians substantial pay hikes, saying the money should instead be spent on the front lines of the health system.
In an open letter, they say the increases are particularly shocking given that other health-care workers such as nurses and orderlies face difficult working conditions.
The letter, which was signed by general practitioners, specialists and residents, comes at a time when many nurses are complaining about excessive workloads.
Isabelle Leblanc, president of the group behind the letter, said nurses, orderlies and other employees in the health-care system are working under awful conditions.
"Basically, the amount of money the Health Department has to run the system is finite," she said in an interview Monday.
"There's only a specific amount of money and not more, and the more you give to the physicians, the less you give to workers or to improve access (to the system)."
Leblanc admitted it was unusual for doctors to say they don't want more money.
"But I don't think it's that unusual for people to say 'the workplace we work in needs more money, put it there and don't put it in our pockets'," she said.
"We think it's going to help patients a lot more if the money is injected in the system, and not into the pockets of the physicians."
Leblanc said she has never seen so many people contacting her organization, asking it to do something.
"We have to stop using the argument that doctors should be paid more because they work hard," she said. "A lot of people work hard."
Quebec Health Minister Gaetan Barrette says he's ready to take some of the money out of the doctors' hands.
"If they feel they are overpaid, they can leave the money on the table and I guarantee you I can make good use of it," he told reporters.
Barrette also pointed out he's already been working with Quebec nurses to deal with issues like overtime and nurse-to-patient ratios.
He said it was agreed to revisit working conditions under an "historic" collective agreement that was reached two years ago.
"The subject that has to get our total attention is personnel working conditions," Barrette said.
"So we are entering that phase, we have the money to address that. That doesn't mean we have infinite amounts of money, but we have the capacity to resolve that issue once and for all."
The head of the Quebec Order of Nurses says the health-care crisis is such that nurses are calling on their professional order to openly denounce the situation, maintaining they can no longer fulfil their professional duties.
President Lucie Tremblay says it's something that has never been seen before.
"There are nurses who are calling us to say they are not able to carry out their professional obligations," Tremblay said, adding the situation can't last.
Some nurses have taken to social media to vent their frustrations.
A Facebook post by a young nurse named Emilie Ricard was shared more than 56,000 times after the woman from the Eastern Townships posted a picture of herself in tears, giving a sarcastic thumbs-up after a night shift in which she said she had to care for more than 70 patients alone.
The doctors also pointed out that their patients are coping with reduced services because of budget cuts in the Health Department over the last few years.
Premier Philippe Couillard's Liberal government recently concluded a deal with the province's 10,000 specialist doctors that would see their annual remuneration rise to $5.4 billion a year in 2023 from the current $4.7 billion.
They would also be entitled to various retroactive salary increases.
In 2016, the average salary of a specialist doctor in Quebec was $403,000, with radiologists leading the way with close to $700,000.
Last October, the government reached a deal with the province's general practitioners to give them an increase of roughly 1.8 per cent a year over eight years.