Four hundred doctors from one end of Nova Scotia to the other gathered in Halifax on Saturday for a town hall meeting.
Physicians spoke about the ongoing challenges they face and how proposed tax changes by the Trudeau government will impact them.
“My real concern is the current climate can’t handle this crisis,” said Dr. Tim Wallace, a surgeon and site chief for Cumberland County.
“It’s going to be more dramatic than people actually think in Nova Scotia.”
Since the proposed tax changes were announced earlier this year, doctors have been speaking out about how much they have to lose.
It’s expected the changes will end up costing doctors in Nova Scotia between $20,000 and $30,000 annually.
“We’re really concerned about the manpower issue but also overall care and trying to provide world-class care in a place where we don’t feel that people are valuing what we do. They’re equating it to our earnings. Earnings are just reflected on how many people we see. It’s not about the value that we provide,” said Wallace.
Doctors Nova Scotia recently did a survey to assess physicians — 864 physicians responded to the survey — which found if the proposed tax measures are implemented, 451 physicians would consider moving from Nova Scotia.
In addition, 375 physicians would consider reducing the number of hours they work, while 359 physicians would consider offering different services.
Wallace says one in five physicians in Canada are over the age of 60, with 12 per cent over the age of 65. One of his concerns lies with what will happen when those doctors retire since some of them have up to 3,000 people in their practices.
Wallace says Nova Scotia, in particular, has a problem with recruiting and retaining doctors. He says patients are ultimately going to be receiving care from people who are “completely strapped.”
“Even specialists are going to feel this, not just the family doctors,” said Wallace.
“We have one place where the entire department of anaesthesia has told me that they’re going to retire, some are going to move. I, myself have been contacted by two institutions from not in this country so this is real.”
Wallace says the Canadian Association of General Surgeons suggests that a one in five call schedule is appropriate for doctors, meaning they would be on call for one day out of every five.
He says the majority of places in Nova Scotia don’t operate that way, and doctors are typically on call one in every three or four days.
“On St. Paddy’s Day, most people are out having fun and I wasn’t on call, and I got a call from the emergency doctor that said, ‘Tim, someone tried to end their life and they took a shotgun to their face. You’re the only one that can do this, so tell me you’re there.’ I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll be there in 15 minutes. I wasn’t on call, I was, you know, with my family and I got called away because nobody else could save that guy,” he said.
WATCH: Federal tax changes could be ‘catastrophic’ for Nova Scotia doctors
Dr. Lisa Bonang, a family physician in Musquodoboit Harbour, N.S., is worried about how the tax changes will impact her workload.
“We’re already overburdened as it is and I think the possibility that these tax reforms may encourage an exodus of physicians from our province, quite frankly, scares me,” she said.
Bonang got a standing ovation at the town hall after discussing why she wanted to stay in Nova Scotia.
“I came home to practice and I intend to stay home to practice. Life can change, one never knows but I hope to continue to make it work in my community,” she told Global News.
Elias Fares is a resident doctor — an individual who finished medical school but is still training.
He says he can see the pressure that doctors are under.
A recent survey from Doctors Nova Scotia found “burnout” is a serious issue for physicians in the province, with 50 per cent of people surveyed reported experiencing symptoms of burnout and another 20 per cent feeling ineffective.
Fares is from Spryfield and ideally, would like to stay in his home province once his training is complete.
“Clearly, my roots are here. It’s where my family is, my friends are, my community is and I would love to stay here,” he said.
There were a number of elected officials at the town hall on Saturday including Liberal MLA Labi Kousoulis.
“I have many physicians in my riding and I have been having many conversations with them, and quite a few of them have reached out to me and asked me to come out and hear the stories of how tax changes may affect them,” he said.
Canada’s Finance Minister Bill Morneau is currently touring the country. He has said he is open to making changes to the proposed tax reform, if necessary.
Public consultation on the proposed tax changes wraps up Oct. 2.