April 26, 2017 8:46 pm

Nova Scotia premier defends health-care system, as Doctors list litany of concerns

WATCH: In a rare committee meeting, Doctors Nova Scotia told MLAs the health-care system faces bottlenecks at every turn in hospitals, the doctors shortage is worse, and access to long-term care and home care is challenged. Marieke Walsh reports on the government’s response.

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The group representing Nova Scotia’s doctors says the physician shortage has gotten worse, access for home care and long-term care has “challenges,” and the “crisis” of an overcrowded emergency room is a near-daily occurrence.

READ MORE: Wife tells how overcrowded Halifax hospital failed her husband

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In a rare appearance, Doctors Nova Scotia spoke to MLAs on the public accounts committee Wednesday about the challenges facing the health-care system and how they want to see it improved.

Board chair and Halifax anesthesiologist Dr. Andre Bernard said “code census” calls at the QEII health complex are so common that the severity of the issue is dulled.

“It is a crisis that happens nearly every single day,” Bernard told the committee.

Code census” is called in a hospital when the emergency department is overcrowded — not because there are too many patients coming in, but because there’s no room elsewhere in the hospital to send the patients who are already there.

“When you hear it all the time, it loses its force,” Bernard said. He said “bottlenecks” that lead to a code census are “at every stage of the system.”

Physician shortage ‘more pronounced’: Doctors N.S.

Asked by Liberal MLA Chuck Porter about when the doctors shortage started in the province, the association said it’s become worse in the “past couple of years.”

READ MORE: No budget, no timeline for Nova Scotia’s new collaborative care clinics

“We are currently experiencing a more pronounced physician shortage than at other times in history,” Doctors Nova Scotia director Alana Patterson said.

In early April, the health authority said 27,757 Nova Scotians are on a waiting list for a family doctor. And Statistics Canada says 91,800 people in Nova Scotia who are over the age of 12 don’t have a regular health-care provider.

Home care and long-term care are ‘challenges’: Doctors N.S.

In order to discharge patients from hospital, long-term care or home care often has to be arranged, family physician and board member Dr. Heather Johnson said. However, getting her patients access to those services is becoming more difficult.

“Home care and long-term care are definitely challenges currently that impact on all the patients that require … the quick access to it, they get it — eventually,” she said. “There’s generally a delay and that’s what causes one of the bottlenecks.”

She said at her practice in Bridgewater, she used to have no delays getting patients access to home care and long-term care, and now, there is “some delay.”

Premier defends Liberal record on health

The issues raised by Doctors Nova Scotia spilled over into question period, with Premier Stephen McNeil facing a battery of questions from Tory Leader Jamie Baillie and the NDP’s Dave Wilson.

“Health care is not in crisis,” McNeil said in response to a question from Baillie.

Speaking to reporters, McNeil said his government’s efforts to transition family doctors to a collaborative care model, hire more nurses for primary care, and redevelop the QEII are all examples of his government’s efforts to transform the system.

“People are starting to see the changes now,” he said.

READ MORE: ER spillover into hallways at Halifax hospital creating patient risk: study

Asked when Doctors Nova Scotia will start to see improvements on the ground, McNeil said he’s “met with a number of doctors who are seeing improvements today.”

“It’s one of the challenges of governing — not everybody is happy at times.”

The doctors’ association says it hopes the government will engage with it as the Liberals roll out the plans for collaborative care and the hospital redevelopment. McNeil said the government will work with organizations to ensure services that Nova Scotians expect are delivered.

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

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