B.C. healthcare professionals' job action disrupts medical services (version 2) 
Fri Dec 7 2012 
Section: OnLine 
Byline: Gordon Hoekstra 
Nearly 3,000 patients around the province have had their X-rays, mammograms and MRIs cancelled because of a rotating strike by health science professionals.
On Monday, the Health Science Association-led job action is scheduled to move to laboratory personnel, who will only provide urgently needed tests, after pharmacists withdrew their services on Thursday.
Under the job action, only emergency procedures are being carried out.
On Friday, in the Vancouver Coastal Health region, about 710 patients were notified their scheduled elective imaging procedure was not going ahead because of the strike.
Some surgeries that required medical imaging were also cancelled, but Coastal Health could not immediately provide a number.
"We apologize because people are psyched up to get their surgery and to have this happen is very disappointing," said Coastal Health spokeswoman Anna Marie D'Angelo.
Another 500 imaging procedures were cancelled in the Vancouver Island Health region. Twenty operating room procedures at Vancouver Island hospitals were also cancelled.
Just under 560 imaging procedures were cancelled in the Interior Health region, and another 880 procedures were cancelled by the Fraser Health Authority.
Fraser Health is still determining what the effects might be of Monday's action, but it looks like routine blood work may be delayed, said Fraser Health spokesman Roy Thorpe-Dorward.
About 250 imaging procedures were cancelled in the Northern Health region, including three non-urgent surgeries.
Northern Health spokesman Steve Raper said there are distance challenges in northern B.C., as people may sometimes have to travel several hours to Prince George where specialized personnel and equipment is located.
It's why Northern Health has been making every effort to ensure patients know their procedures are being cancelled, he said.
The two sides remain at the negotiating table in the midst of the strike action.
The HSA, which represents the majority of the 16,000 health professionals and several unions, said the rotating strikes are necessary to keep pressure on the province. The health workers are looking for a two-year contract with two per cent pay rises in each year, and no clawback of benefits.
The unions say the employer has offered a lower wage increase and wants to take away benefits.
"It took nine months, the imposition of job action and a mediator ... before the employer even tabled an offer," said HSA president Reid Johnson.
"Our members just want to be respected and they just want a reasonable offer."
The health professionals, which are also represented by four other unions, have had their wages frozen since 2009 and are falling behind their counterparts in other provinces, argued Johnson.
A radiation technologist earns $28.27 to $40.44 an hour, while a pharmacist earns $40 to almost $53 an hour.
The Health Employers Association of B.C. (HEABC) - which represents 260 publicly-funded health care employers - has criticized the health workers' unions for carrying through with their strike action even though both parties agreed to use mediator Vince Ready.
Usually when there is a mediator involved, strike activity ceases, said HEABC president Michael Marchbank.
He declined to discuss the employers' offer.
"We need to keep our discussions around the contract at the negotiating table," said Marchbank.
"Obviously we are hoping to get a deal because there's effects on patients," he said.