February 24, 2017 4:23 pm
Updated: February 26, 2017 1:54 pm

Nova Scotia doctor calls family doctor shortage a ‘crisis’

WATCH ABOVE: Twenty per cent of Haligonians don’t have access to a family doctor according to a recently released survey. As Marieke Walsh reports one doctor says it will get worse.

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Twenty per cent of Haligonians don’t have access to a family doctor according to a recently released survey.

Access to doctors in Halifax is lower than the provincial rate, according to a survey commissioned by Communications Nova Scotia and conducted by MQO Research. Across the province, 86 per cent of Nova Scotians have a family doctor, compared to 80 per cent in the capital.

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

Those numbers are troubling for Dr. Frances Moriarty, who has been practicing since 1978 and has a practice in Dartmouth.

“It’s a crisis, it’s an absolute crisis,” she said Friday.

Moriarty said that while doctors are asked on a daily basis, she can’t name one doctor in Dartmouth accepting new patients right now.

“Our clinic alone, if one of us leaves without a replacement, you’re facing the issue of what do you do with the patients, doctors here could not absorb my patients if I left,” Moriarty said.

She herself was supposed to retire in December, but can’t find a replacement. Meantime, she is searching for her own family doctor, after hers retired three years ago.

“There’s that sense that you’re setting adrift a whole lot of people who, through no fault of their own, are not going to be able to get a family doctor,” she said.

Health department initiative to offer primary care to 14,000 more Nova Scotians

The Communications Nova Scotia-commissioned survey was conducted in October and released in early February. It is accurate within 4.9 percentage points 19 times out of 20, and based on a sample of 400 Nova Scotians.

In response to the survey, the health department pointed to an initiative it announced in September that will add 22 new nursing professionals to collaborative practices across the province. Seven of those nurses will go to family practices in Halifax.

It’s expected those nurses would give 14,000 more Nova Scotians access to primary care across the province.

“The department knows this is an important issue for Nova Scotians, and it’s important to government too,” department spokesperson Tracy Barron said in an emailed statement.

The survey was released through an access to information request from the Progressive Conservatives. The most recent information from Statistics Canada dates back to 2014 and shows that at the time 89.4 per cent of Nova Scotians had access to a family doctor.

Tory leader Jamie Baillie said the survey shows access to family doctors has declined under the Liberals.

“The problem’s getting worse,” he said. “It confirms what every Nova Scotian is feeling — that this is a crisis, there are far too many families without a doctor.”

However, the department said that it doesn’t believe the rates of access reported in the survey and through Statistics Canada can be compared because they use different methodologies.

The Statistics Canada information shows a similar discrepancy in access to family doctors in rural and urban areas of the province dating back to 2014 and earlier. According to the agency, 86.4 per cent of people in the city had access to a family doctor compared to 89.4 per cent provincially.

The statistics are for the then-Capital District Health Authority which covered the Halifax Regional Municipality.

Liberals promised a doctor for every Nova Scotian in 2013 election

During the 2013 election, the Liberals campaigned on a pledge to have a doctor for every Nova Scotian within three years. Now in the fourth year of their mandate, the survey suggests that at best, access hasn’t changed.

READ MORE: Campaign promise of a doctor for every Nova Scotian 5 years away: health CEO

Moriarty says the challenge is recruiting new physicians and she fears it will only get worse. Her clinic has approval to hire, but getting a doctor to join the practice is an uphill battle.

“The dilemma is trying to attract people, because family medicine as it used to be when I first started has changed quite dramatically,” she said. “There is a shortage of doctors across Canada, so new doctors can have their choice of where they want to go, and what type of practice they have.”

In September, the Nova Scotia Health Authority said it would take five years to bring primary care to all Nova Scotians, but at the time Premier Stephen McNeil said he still thought he could make good on his election promise.

“Well, we’ll see,” McNeil told reporters in September. “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.”

The premier’s office declined Global News’ requests for comment on Friday.

Baillie said the latest numbers show the Liberals have missed the mark.

“They had no idea how to keep the promise, and they haven’t even tried to keep it.”

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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