HALIFAX — Nova Scotia is offering office space at no cost to some family physicians and creating health teams to alleviate the burden on nurses and doctors, but the opposition says the government is taking baby steps that won't significantly reduce wait-lists.
Premier Tim Houston said Wednesday that his government's new plan, at a cost of $6.3 million over four years, will increase physician recruitment and retention and connect 3,500 more patients to doctors by early 2023.
The province is making space available at two existing Halifax-area clinics for four newly graduated family doctors or physicians who have recently moved to the province, the premier told reporters at the Dalhousie Family Medicine Clinic in Halifax. Allowing doctors to save on overhead costs will help them establish themselves before they move to a permanent clinic, he said.
“Nova Scotia is a province of opportunity, a place where we value new ideas and new ways of doing things," Houston said. "And we need a lot of new ideas to fix the long-standing issues impacting our health system.”
It's unclear when the four doctors will move into the two clinics, but officials on Wednesday said the physicians will be expected to take on 1,300 patients each and work there for one year before moving to their own practices.
The second project, which the government said began over the summer, involves a team of physiotherapists, pharmacists, nurses and occupational therapists to care for patients with chronic diseases in order to free up doctors and nurse practitioners to see more patients. The team works out of the Dalhousie Family Medicine Clinic.
Health Minister Michelle Thompson said 780 patients have been connected with primary care since this program was launched in the summer. The program, she said, should help a total of 3,500 patients connect with a family doctor by early 2023.
NDP member and former party leader Gary Burrill said the government's announcement equates to a “baby step” given the significant and growing demand for primary care.
“This is at a time when the government has really promised giant steps, and that’s not what’s happening in this announcement,” Burrill said.
Houston’s Progressive Conservatives won the August 2021 election with a campaign that focused largely on fixing the province’s health system. As of Sept. 1, there were more than 110,600 Nova Scotians on the wait-list for a family doctor or nurse practitioner — up from about 75,200 people at the same time last year.
The premier told reporters that more needs to be done to increase access to primary care, but he questioned the accuracy of the wait-list.
“We know the list is a significant number, but we also know that there are people who are accessing care and attaching themselves to a primary care provider but aren’t necessarily coming off the list,” Houston said.
The health authority started an accuracy check of the wait-list by calling the names on the registry in December; the check was completed in March.
Houston said the registry is “accurate in the sense that there is a problem to be solved. How accurate the actual number is, I don't know.”
Liberal Leader Zach Churchill said Houston’s comments about the wait-list were “very weird, considering (Houston) used that number when it was lower to make a point about there being a crisis in health care.”
Burrill said Houston’s comments came across as “dismissive” and “cavalier.”
“There’s a real sense of suffering about this (lack of primary care access), which is palpable throughout the province," Burrill said. "So I think it is disrespectful to not deeply register, on the premier’s part, that we have a significant part of our population for whom this is a major, daily worry.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 12, 2022.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Lyndsay Armstrong, The Canadian Press
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version stated that NDP member Gary Burrill was the party's health critic.