Regina Leader-Post

SMA loses bid to appeal surgical suit


A class-action lawsuit over the differing fees paid to surgical assistants in this province has made it over one more legal hurdle.

A Saskatchew­an Court of Appeal judge has refused to grant leave to appeal to the Saskatchew­an Medical Associatio­n (SMA), which disputed that the suit should in fact be a class action.

In his written reasons issued this week, Justice Maurice Herauf pointed out that it’s still early days, and the go-ahead to proceed as a class action doesn’t determine whether or not the case actually has merit.

“The SMA can continue to vigorously oppose the merits of the proposed class action at trial,” he said.

“A timely resolution will likely resolve some of the angst that has been expressed by the SMA that this action is a direct challenge to the principles of medicare,” Herauf added.

At issue is a compensati­on scale which pays parttime surgical assistants 17 per cent more for the same service provided by the fulltime surgical assistants.

The claim alleges a breach of duty by the SMA, which negotiates on behalf of most of the province’s physicians.

According to Herauf ’s summary, part-time surgical assistants are those whose practice comprises less than 50 per cent of surgical assistant’s work. Most are family physicians treating patients out of an office, whereas full-time assistants, also family physicians, usually have a hospital-based practice. The difference in fees, which was accepted by the SMA and Saskatchew­an government, was based on an initiative to have officebase­d physicians assist in their patients’ surgery, so the fee recognized that they should be compensate­d for continued office overhead when leaving their offices. “Hence, the reason for the increased fee to this class of physicians much to the chagrin of the hospital-based physicians who perform the same function or duty for less remunerati­on,” wrote Herauf.

Before a lawsuit can proceed as a class action it must first be certified by a judge.

In December, Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Ted Zarzeczny found the proposed suit, argued by lawyers Tony Merchant and Casey Churko, met the requiremen­ts for a class action. That means that rather than each individual suing, one person, in this case Dr. Keith Anstead, can launch the action on behalf of himself and a group — the fulltime surgical assistants.

According to Zarzeczny’s decision, Saskatchew­an had 61 full-time surgical assistants as of the end of 2013.

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