TORONTO — Leaders of a doctors' strike in Ontario voted Friday to end a three-week general walkout. But physicians will continue to halt medical service in Canada's most populous province on a rotating basis to fight a law limiting their fees.
The 250-member governing council of the Ontario Medical Assn., which represents 15,000 practicing physicians, voted to end the provincewide strike by thousands of doctors Monday. The association will call rotating walkouts throughout Ontario, although spokesmen did not say when those would begin or how they would be handled.
The group said the general strike could resume in the bitter fight to have the fee-limiting law withdrawn or amended.
Renewed Strike Possible
"It had a very draining effect on our members--emotionally draining and physically draining--and frankly they need to get their batteries recharged," said medical association General Secretary Ed Moran. "I would not rule out another full-scale withdrawal of services."
The group also has launched a court challenge to the new law, which imposes heavy fines on doctors whose fees exceed those set by public health insurance, a practice known as "extra billing." The doctors, who say the dispute is over professional freedom and not money, will argue that the law is unconstitutional.
The strike, which began June 12, has severely disrupted health care across the province of more than 9 million people.
Doctors, who earn an average of $61,320 a year, have closed their private offices and canceled non-emergency surgery while shutting down hospital emergency wards on a rotating basis.
The medical association said it did not know exactly how many of the province's doctors heeded the strike call. But during the past several days, many physicians have returned to their jobs as support for the walkout declined.
The Ontario Medical Assn. council met for more than seven hours as some strike organizers pushed for an escalation of the walkout and others pressed for an end.
The Ontario Hospital Assn., which represents 220 public hospitals across the province, urged the doctors to return to work.
Fines Up to $1,000
The hospital association said 16 emergency departments, which normally treat an estimated 2,000 patients a day, were restricted across Ontario most of Friday.
The law, passed in late June by the government of Ontario Premier David Peterson, imposes fines of up to $1,000 on doctors who bill more than fees covered by public health insurance.
Under Ontario's health system, doctors bill the health plan directly for fees. But before the law was passed, the patient paid outright if the doctor billed extra or had withdrawn from the plan.
The patient then was reimbursed by the government, but only for the set amount. About 5% of Ontario's doctors billed extra and 12% quit the plan.