New Brunswick Health Minister Dorothy Shepard says new changes to the health system will allow the province to address the emergency care crisis.
The new plan will make better use of all medical professionals across the province, Shephard said in a Wednesday briefing.
“Access to primary health-care services has been an issue in this province for a long time,” she said.
Shephard said when patients can’t get care in a timely way, they end up in emergency rooms, which is not sustainable. This has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“About 60 per cent of emergency department patients in the province could be treated in community settings,” said the minister.
“Emergency departments throughout the province continue to see patients for their emergency health needs including chest pains, signs of stroke and broken bones.”
As part of the new plan, paramedics will be able to assess whether people need to be transferred to hospitals.
“Paramedics are highly trained health professionals and are trained to do this assessment… Beginning Monday, they will have the options to treat and release,” she said.
Shephard pointed out that 91 per cent of New Brunswickers have access to a family doctor or other primary care, but only 57 per cent visit their doctor most often when they need care.
In November 2021, the province announced plans for the new system that would give primary care access to patients who don’t have a family doctor or nurse practitioner. Back then, Shephard said an online registry of people without doctors would be transformed into a referral system, in what she said would be the first of its kind in Canada.
On Nov. 17, 2021, the province unveiled its five-year plan to overhaul its health-care system — a part of which was helping people without primary care.
The minister said Wednesday that public health is accelerating plans to provide alternatives to primary care accessible across the province.
“Given the speed with which we have pulled this project together, there will be undoubtedly bumps in the road,” she said.
According to Shephard, moving forward with these change is critical to inform New Brunswick’s path in the health system overhaul.
“We are demonstrating we can use technology to connect New Brunswickers to the care they need,” she said.
Shephard noted it’s still important that residents call 911 in case of an emergency.
“This is about showing New Brunswickers that not only have we been able to continue to utilize the services that we have – the pharmacy and partners – but we are expanding it,” she said.
One part of the expansion will also be allowing pharmacists to prescribe for certain conditions, including UTIs, fungal infections and some skin conditions.
This move will expand the role of pharmacists in the health system, which has already been expanding throughout the pandemic with their role in vaccine rollout.
In the meantime, New Brunswick remains at Level 3 of the COVID-19 winter plan. As emergency rooms are additionally strained due to COVID-19 hospitalizations, Shephard also noted on Wednesday that an update on Level 3 is coming later this week.
Restrictions are set to ease on Jan. 30 at 11:59 p.m., and the health minister said “modelling looks good” in reference to moving to Level 2.