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Halifax-area doctor says province neglecting shortage of family physicians in HRM

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Halifax-area family doctor says physician shortage in HRM being ignored
WATCH ABOVE: A Halifax-area family doctor says there is a shortage of physicians in HRM because he receives multiple calls a day from patients looking for a doctor. However, when he tried to apply with the Nova Scotia Health Authority to add a new physician to his practice, his application was denied. Rebecca Lau reports – Apr 28, 2016

A Halifax-area family doctor says regulations in the province that manage where new doctors are located are affecting medical care for patients.

Dr. Emile Saad opened his practice in Beaver Bank five years ago. The family doctor has about 1,600 patients and has enough room to take on another physician. However, when he applied last year to the Nova Scotia Health Authority to hire a second family physician, his application was denied.

“According to their criteria, there are enough family physicians practicing in HRM so that’s why we’re not able to have approval for this position,” Saad said.

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As of April 2015, new physician positions in the Central Zone, which covers HRM and Windsor, have to be approved by the health authority.

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The purpose is to allow the Nova Scotia Health Authority the ability to ensure physicians are practicing in areas where they are needed, especially rural parts of the province.

The change also allows the health authority to control the types of practices that are open, since they want to move toward collaborative practices in which patients have access to a range of health care professionals.

Dr. Emile Saad is encouraging people who call his office in search of a family doctor to write their MLAs and voice their concerns. Mike Trenchard/ Global News

However, even though Saad’s practice is in HRM, he says there is clearly a need for more doctors because his clinic fields 10 to 12 requests each day from people looking for a family doctor.

He is unable to take new patients and cannot start a wait list because of how busy he is.

“We also receive emails from the patient asking us to have their relatives, to have their neighbours, to have their friends as patients in our office and also we have people walking in,” he said.

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“Not that long ago, I had a patient walking in — he had cancer. And another patient walked in here also — she had breast cancer, she was treated with chemotherapy and she did not have a family physician. I think it’s serious enough.”

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Doreen Archibald is among those searching desperately for a family doctor. The senior’s doctor recently closed his practice due to health problems. Since then, she’s called two dozen offices across HRM in search of a doctor for her and her family.

Each time, she’s been told the doctor is not accepting new patients and was only able to get onto one wait list.

“I put my name for one in Hatchet Lake and they have 36 ahead of me, but I need one for myself, my husband and my son because we all lost our doctor at the same time,” Archibald said.

“I need a doctor. I have too many things wrong with me. I don’t have too many parts left and I’ve had cancer three times so I want a doctor.”

The Nova Scotia Health Authority, however, says the province actually has a high proportion of family physicians to residents. Forty-eight family doctor vacancies have been approved since April of last year in the Halifax area and there are 20 open positions right now.

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Health Minister Leo Glavine echos that sentiment and says the province is in a “good position.”

“About 90 per cent of Nova Scotians have a family doctor and that is one of the highest in Canada,” he said.

“The health authority has to look at the best geographic placement of doctors and that is one of their goals at the moment.”

Saad disagrees and is inviting the province to sit down with doctors like him to discuss the issue. He’s also encouraging people who call his office in search of a family doctor to write a letter to the MLA to voice their frustrations.

“I would like them to change those rules because those rules will have serious consequences on the health of the population. People are left without essential medical care,” Saad said.

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