Emergency room closures front and centre on Nova Scotia campaign trail

Click to play video 'Emergency room closures hot-topic on campaign trail' Emergency room closures hot-topic on campaign trail
Nova Scotians continue to live with emergency room closures throughout the province. – May 20, 2017

Emergency room closures are an ongoing issue in Nova Scotia, and was a heated topic on the election campaign trail Saturday.

“There isn’t any question or interpretation about it; emergency room closures have increased every year since the McNeil Liberals came to power,” NDP Leader Gary Burrill said.

Both Burrill and Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil addressed ER closures while campaigning in the Halifax Regional Municipality.

“If you go back and look since we came into government to now, unscheduled ER closures are down 25 per cent,” McNeil said.

Statistics on ER closures throughout Nova Scotia are tracked in the annual “Accountability Report on Emergency Departments.”

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

The 2015-2016 report shows emergency rooms throughout Nova Scotia were closed for a total of 22,505 hours.

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Since McNeil became premier of Nova Scotia in October 2013, total hours of ER closures have risen from 15,555 to 22,505.

Unscheduled closures have decreased under McNeil’s Liberals, while scheduled closures have risen.

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

Scheduled closures are planned — it means emergency departments operate during regular hours and are closed overnight.

McNeil points to a decrease in unscheduled closures and an increase in scheduled closures, as a success.

“What we have seen is it [emergency room closures] stabilized. So now we will schedule them, so we let everyone in those communities know. But unscheduled closures that were at a rapid pace under the NDP are down 25 per cent,” McNeil said.

There are four hospitals in Nova Scotia with emergency departments that operate less than 24/7 hours.

Fishermen’s Memorial Hospital in Lunenburg, Musquodoboit Valley Memorial Hospital in Middle Musquodoboit, New Waterford Consolidated Hospital in Cape Breton, and Northside General Hospital in Cape Breton.

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McNeil says his government will help alleviate ER pressure through locum services, where health-care workers can pick up extra shifts and be compensated for travelling to rural communities.

Burrill says if the NDP are elected, his government will double the amount of Collaborative Emergency Centres in the province.

Collaborative health teams would include a combination of nurse practitioners, doctors and mental health workers, and serve communities where access to primary health care is a problem.

Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie was campaigning on the South Shore Saturday but says his party has an “aggressive doctor and nurse practitioner recruitment plan” to address emergency room closures.

Baillie’s platform invests $13.5 million into recruiting doctors to communities where emergency room closures are an identified issue.