Premier Stephen McNeil is refusing to let go of a key campaign promise to ensure every Nova Scotian has access to a family doctor, even though the CEO of Nova Scotia’s health authority says it will likely take five years to make it happen.
The Liberal government will mark its third year in power in October and time appears to be running out on its commitment with about 10 per cent of the population or around 100,000 people still without a family doctor.
Nova Scotia Health Authority CEO Janet Knox told reporters Wednesday that while recruiting efforts continue to replace doctors who move or simply retire, the province is continuing to develop its collaborative care model.
Knox said by establishing multi-team practices in areas of the province where doctor shortages are most acute, the health system will ensure that people have access to a physician.
“Our hope is that they (patients) will have access to a physician and a team,” said Knox. “We will have a plan for how many new practices that we will add this year, next year and the year after.”
Knox said the goal is to have the needed collaborative practices in place within the next five years.
Despite Knox’s assertion, Premier Stephen McNeil refused to rule out keeping the campaign promise within his government’s current mandate, although he was less definitive on whether it would happen.
“Well, we’ll see,” McNeil said. “We’re going to continue to strive to meet that commitment, of course we are…I have a fair bit of time left in my mandate.”
McNeil later announced an additional $3.6 million to hire 13 nurse practitioners and nine family practice nurses to work in collaborative care practices.
The 22 positions are to be spread across the province, to areas including Halifax, Cape Breton, Pictou County, Truro, Windsor, Digby and Shelburne. There was no word on when they would be hired and in place.
The Nova Scotia Health Authority will issue expressions of interest for some communities for family practices interested in taking on the new positions. Once that process is completed, the positions will be posted.
The government said the expansion of collaborative care teams would help it with physician recruitment and result in an additional 14,000 people gaining access to primary health care services.
“Today’s announcement is just one more step toward that vision, and it won’t be the last,” said McNeil.
But the opposition parties said the government has been too slow to solve problems such as doctor shortages that are of immediate concern to those who need health care services.
“There are so many cracks in the system right now,” said Progressive Conservative Tim Houston. “They need to focus on making sure that people can get to see a physician when they need to.”
NDP health critic Dave Wilson said he doubts Nova Scotians thought it would take three years to take action on primary care.
“The McNeil government has announced and re-announced plans and ideas, but Nova Scotians deserve to know exactly when they can expect to access a family doctor or clinic in their community,” Wilson said.