Some doctors are offering a new prescription to the problem of overcrowding in Cape Breton emergency rooms: equal pay for equal work.

They say doctors in Sydney are better paid than those who work in community facilities, where in-patient beds are available.

With three ambulances waiting inside, two outside, and more on the way, the scene inside the emergency department at the Cape Breton Regional Hospital is described by one doctor as “controlled chaos.”

“We have 15 admitted patients to go upstairs, but have no beds,” said Dr. Margaret Fraser. “We have five ambulances at the back door and we have 15 or 16 patients in the waiting room who we have no way of seeing right now because we're full.”

Just down the hall, Dr. Stephanie Langley says there are solutions to overcrowded ER departments, but she says the province appears unwilling to make changes. 

“The issue of not being remunerated when we are on call overnight and cover patients on the weekend became an increasing sore point for physicians,” Langley said. “They felt that work we were doing wasn't being valued.”

Langley says yesterday 31 inpatients beds sat empty at the Northside General and the Glace Bay General. Both ER departments were closed because of a lack of doctors.

Meanwhile, the Cape Breton Regional  Hospital was extremely busy.

Langley says doctors who care for inpatients at the hospital in Sydney are paid, but those working community hospitals like Glace Bay and Northside general are not.

“Things are kind of snowballing,” said Langley. “The frustrated levels are very high. People are feeling burned out and devalued. They are starting to give up some of the work that is no longer valued.”

Wednesday was doctors’ day in Nova Scotia, a day to celebrate the positive work being done by healthcare professionals. But in Cape Breton there are a lot of unhappy physicians who say equal pay for equal work would go a long way in fixing the ER backlog.

“Those 15 patients, some of them do have family doctors in Glace Bay and North Sydney and they could go and be cared for,” Fraser said. “If they would pay them an equitable rate and work out a reasonable compromise we would not be in this mess today.”

CTV Atlantic contacted the communications department at the Cape Breton Regional Hospital and we did not hear back by air time.

In an e-mail, the Department of Health And Wellness had this response:

“Physician compensation is guided by a contract negotiated between Doctors Nova Scotia and the province. The province and Doctors Nova Scotia are currently negotiating the next contract,” wrote spokesman Andrew Preeper. "We have in place an emergency shift premium being offered to doctors to try to cover hard-to-fill ER shifts. This premium/incentive has been used at Cape Breton Regional, Northside General and Glace Bay hospitals. We have also implemented a locum incentive program (for replacement doctors) to help with short and long-term vacancies by making it more financially attractive. This program has been successfully used at Cape Breton Regional Hospital.”

With files from CTV Atlantic’s Kyle Moore.