‘I think there should be prioritization’: Nova Scotia woman calls for change to doctor waitlist

Nova Scotians left frustrated by family doctor waitlist
Thu, Nov 15: The “need a family practice” registry was first launched two years ago. Last year there were about 40,000 people on the list and the numbers have only kept growing. But doctors are not required to take people exclusively from the list and as Alicia Draus reports, for those on the list the process is frustrating.

Elizabeth Thomas and her husband moved to Nova Scotia in January 2017, just months after the provincial government created the Need a Family Practice registry.

The pair put their names on the list immediately but have never received a callback.

“Almost two years later, we still don’t have a family doctor,” said Thomas.

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Instead, the couple relies on walk-in clinics and they’re not alone.

READ MORE: Life on the wait list: Stories of Nova Scotia’s family doctor shortage

As of Nov. 1, there were 59,225 names on the registry.

The Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA) only started releasing statistics last year, and over the past year, the list has grown every month but one.

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When asked about the growing number, Minister of Health Randy Delory could not give a timeline when the number might start going down.

“Since the implementation of the [Need a Family Practice registry], it’s been close to 33,000 Nova Scotians that didn’t have a family practice that do today,” he said.

But that number is not representative of the number of people who have been taken off the list as some who do find a doctor are not registered.

In October, 3,761 people found a provider while only 3,076 people signed up to the registry but the number of people on the registry still increased by two per cent.

According to Delory, doctors are not required to fill spots with patients off the list.

“Physicians are independent operators — they’re not employees in the traditional sense, so they do retain autonomy to choose the people coming into their practice.”

READ MORE: Physician recruitment should concentrate on wages, work environment: Doctors N.S.

Thomas said the whole process is frustrating and confusing.

“I think there should be prioritization,” she said. “If people do have acute ongoing health-care needs, they should be prioritized.”

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Suqhvender Singh also registered his name on the list shortly after moving to Nova Scotia but said his friends told him the wait could be years so he took a different approach.

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“I googled all the clinics in Halifax, started calling them asking if they had openings for new patients,” he said.

In the end, it paid off and Singh found a doctor.

“Now I know, even if I have small issues, I can go directly to her and talk to her,” he said.

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Thomas has also tried calling around and has even physically gone to clinics to see if they had openings, but so far, she has had no luck.

“It can be a serendipitous thing,” said Kevin Chapman with Doctors Nova Scotia.

“It’s not a perfect system. Ideally, those who need a family physician the most would probably get them the quickest.”

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Chapman said the list is proving to be a good tool but more still needs to be done.

“The best way to obviate the issue is to hire more family physicians and more nurse practitioners and folks that can actually see patients.”

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Thomas is now in the process of writing to both the minister of health and the premier about her concerns.

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“Health care in Nova Scotia is in a crisis situation. I think it should be their No. 1 priority,” she said.

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“They need to look outside the box to look for ways and means to address that for all Nova Scotians.”