New Brunswick suspends six oncologists from working at hospital

N.B. Health minister orders doctor to notify patients with unvaccinated doctors of the move.

A subset of patients at Northern New Brunswick’s Saint John hospital have been informed that the hospital’s six regular physicians who do not recommend vaccination to their patients have been suspended.

Health Minister Dr. Doug Donaldson said the physicians learned on Monday that their practises have been suspended. They were to be notified by email and phone on Tuesday, but those deadlines have been postponed because no messages have been sent.

“When the doctors were notified, we realized we had to immediately get the word out to the patients, to give them as much peace of mind as possible,” Donaldson said in an interview Tuesday.

The six physicians were prohibited from seeing patients on Friday.

The doctors have not been identified and Donaldson said he would be contacting their lawyers as soon as they returned from their respective holidays.

“Now that they’ve been told they’re not able to practise in the province of New Brunswick anymore, we will follow up with these doctors on a case-by-case basis. We will immediately deal with any issues that come to light. We’re prepared to deal with them, and we will be doing that,” he said.

The order is not a result of any investigation, Donaldson said.

“We want to reassure patients that the suspension is entirely precautionary. We will do our due diligence and hopefully we’ll find a way to keep these doctors as part of the health system going forward,” he said.

Const. Ronald Hiller said in an email the hospital has hired two additional physicians to help continue to offer vaccinations to patients, as well as using one of its regular doctors as a buffer to make sure new patients with unvaccinated physicians are covered while the suspensions are in place.

Dr. Andrew Goddard, head of clinical affairs at Saint John hospital, said he was informed Monday about the suspension.

“For the most part the patients have been understanding and appreciative. Some have wondered why the doctors are suspended and we explained the reason. Some have also asked about research, but we don’t know enough about these particular issues in our region to be able to elaborate,” he said.

Goddard said the hospital has contacted 18 of the roughly 150 patients who are still with the doctors under suspension.

If patients were confused about why they weren’t getting their vaccinations, “we’re going to do our best to be able to explain that it’s not the end of the world,” he said.

Goddard said the case may reach the courts eventually, but there’s no timetable for that to happen.

In August of 2014, a follow-up investigation revealed a large number of non-qualified doctors and “questionable record keeping,” involving 28 doctors at Saint John hospital, but no formal investigation was undertaken. The results of that investigation were also shared only with New Brunswick’s chief medical officer of health at the time.

The Health Department released a public disclosure statement Tuesday, saying that “in order to provide a better assurance of care to the public, the department has suspended five of the New Brunswick’s six oncology specialist physicians, as well as the physician who maintains and supervises the oncology staff at the Saint John Regional Health Authority.”

N.B. junior doctors often complain about a dearth of cancer specialists in the province.

In a letter sent to the minister on Tuesday, Saint John junior doctors will also be signing a letter to tell patients they don’t think there is enough cancer care, and that New Brunswick Junior Doctors has secured a consultation with specialists in Ottawa to discuss a potential waiting list for newly diagnosed cancers.

The letter will be sent by mail, and said the process to inform patients of the suspension of the oncology specialists is under way, and more details will be available soon.

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