September 28, 2017 7:38 pm

Nova Scotia only province to see drop in family doctors: CIHI

Nova Scotia was the only province to see a drop in family doctors in 2016, according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information.

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A national organization says Nova Scotia was the only province in the country to see a net loss of doctors in 2016.

The Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) released the numbers as part of its annual report on physicians in Canada.

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The latest numbers show Nova Scotia lost 26 family physicians in 2016, according to CIHI’s manager of physician information, Geoff Ballinger. The drop comes as the province grapples with a gap in access to primary care and family doctors.

“Virtually across the country there has been growth in the number of family medicine physicians,” Ballinger said. Adding that it’s “notable” that Nova Scotia is the outlier.

He said the likely reason for the drop in family doctors is due to retiring doctors. And added that it’s not necessarily a “bad news story” because Nova Scotia still has high numbers of doctors.

Nova Scotia has most doctors per capita in Canada

In spite of the drop in family doctors, the province still has one of the highest per capita rates of family physicians in the country. In Nova Scotia, there are 128 family doctors per 100,000 people compared to a Canadian average of 116 family physicians per 100,000 people.

Newfoundland and Labrador and B.C. are the only provinces ahead of Nova Scotia in that measurement.

But if you combine specialist and family doctors into one ratio, then Nova Scotia outpaced all other provinces with a ratio of 258 doctors to 100,000 people. Compare that to the Canadian average of 230 doctors per 100,000 people.

While the ratio looks favourable to Nova Scotia, Premier Stephen McNeil said the ratios could be skewed because Nova Scotia is home to hospitals used by all four Atlantic provinces. In particular, Halifax’s IWK children’s hospital and the Queen Elizabeth II health complex.

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“We would require more (doctors) on a per capita basis,” McNeil said.

He said the high ratios don’t detract from the fact that there are many Nova Scotians without access to a family doctor.

“If you’re a Nova Scotian who doesn’t have access to primary care today, this is certainly a major issue, one that we’re trying to work with them and their communities to deal with,” he said.

The CIHI report also shows that Nova Scotia doctors are on average the lowest paid in the country. The gross average payment for doctors in Nova Scotia is $262,000 compared to a Canadian average of $339,000.

Ballinger said the high doctor ratios suggest that salaries aren’t a detractor for recruiting and retaining physicians in Nova Scotia. But he added that CIHI is working with the provincial health department to better understand what conclusions can be drawn from the numbers.

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

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