CTV News has learned 23 inpatient beds at the Glace Bay Hospital are empty as doctors withdraw their services over what they say is pay inequity, compared to counterparts at the Cape Breton Regional Hospital.

It's causing more crowding in ERs and now, Doctors Nova Scotia is saying it's time the issue is resolved.

The shutdown comes at a hospital that's expected to expand and is another major hurdle in its struggle to keep its ER doors open.

“It's simply mind-boggling that they think we can continue to operate like this,” said Dr. Margaret Fraser.

The head of the medical staff association says they are taking a stand over a longstanding issue of pay inequity compared to physicians doing the same work at the Cape Breton Regional Hospital.

“The Nova Scotia Health Authority has worked out a formula whereby they say that the docs in Glace Bay don't do as complex work as the doctors in Sydney do, and so they should be paid less,” Fraser says. “That's simply not true, and it's unfair.”

The health authority is reassigning registered nurses and LPNs from Glace Bay to the Cape Breton Regional Hospital because of the vacancies at the Glace Bay Hospital, but they wouldn't say much about the squabble over pay.

“The health authority doesn't involve itself directly with compensation or contractual matters with the physicians,” said NSHA spokesman Greg Boone.“That's a question that you'll have to discuss with Doctors Nova Scotia, the bargaining agent for the physicians, or the Department of Health and Wellness.”

Doctors Nova Scotia has weighed in, telling CTV News that “Glace Bay family physicians and other community-based family physicians deserve to be adequately and equitably compensated for the work they do to provide inpatient care. They provide inpatient care in addition to their busy office practices. As tough as this decision is for these physicians they've had to draw a line to protect their well-being.”

Boone says when there are vacant beds and Glace Bay can’t admit patients, it affects the Cape Breton Regional Hospital.

When asked if the impacts on the already-overcrowded ER at the Cape Breton Regional are putting doctors there in a bad position, Fraser said: “I can understand why they're doing it. I certainly have no animosity towards them.”

It’s a problem that doctors say is only getting worse.

With files from CTV Atlantic’s Ryan MacDonald.