The long promised fix to a gap in primary care in Nova Scotia is coming, just don’t ask when or how much it will cost.
Top health care officials told the province’s public accounts committee on Wednesday that they can’t say when the 42 collaborative care clinics that are already in the works will be up and running and they can’t say how much it will cost taxpayers.
“I don’t have cost information for you today,” deputy health minister Denise Perret told MLAs.
“Its just unbelievable,” NDP MLA Dave Wilson said in respond to Perret. He said it’s “unacceptable” to come to the committee tasked with studying the province’s finances with no financial numbers.
The clinics are supposed to increase access to primary care in Nova Scotia. According to the health authority 27,757 Nova Scotians are on a waiting list for a family doctor. That’s up by more than 2,000 since March. According to the latest numbers from Statistics Canada 91,800 people in Nova Scotia don’t have a regular health care provider.
The department said it doesn’t have a global budget for the changeover to collaborative care clinics because the clinics are “being built in response to the specific regional and population needs of a community, so they’re not all the same configuration,” Perret said.
For example, health authority CEO Janet Knox told reporters the cost for expanding the clinic in Digby is based on hiring two nurse practitioners and a family practice nurse but in Annapolis the only cost was for one nurse practitioner.
In total the province said it will open 78 collaborative clinics but it doesn’t have a global budget or an estimate for how much it will cost to get there. Asked how the health authority can be planning for the collaborative care clinics without knowing how much it will cost, Knox said the budget is currently being worked on with the government.
In the meantime Knox said planning is being done on a yearly basis, depending on the health authority’s annual budget.
There is also no timeline for how much longer it will take for the 42 clinics already in the works to be fully operational or when all 78 clinics will be open.
“It will take us a couple of years to work with groups to get to a certain place,” Knox said.
Lack of details shows a lack of planning: Opposition
Progressive Conservative MLA Tim Houston is accusing the Liberals of government by photo-op and failing to implement a plan that will make good on their promises.
“They should be able to tell you when they’ll open, they should be able to tell you how many patients they will absorb… and they should definitely be able to tell you how much it costs. That’s what a plan is,” Houston said.
“We don’t see plans from this government, we see announcements from this government.”
Wilson accused the government of “incompetence” if clinics are being rolled out without a budget.
22 nurses announced in September will be working within 6 weeks
Last year the province announced $3.6 million in new money for the health authority to hire 22 nurses for family practices. None of that money has been spent yet but Knox said the nurses will be “in place in the next six weeks.”
The province said the move will give 14,000 more Nova Scotians access to primary care. In the Halifax area that means 4,800 more people will be able to join collaborative health clinics, according to the health department.
Another clinic announced for Digby will be fully staffed by September, Knox said.