An update on the implementation of New Brunswick’s five year health plan was mostly silent on what’s being done to address recruitment and retention issues in the system.
Co-chairs Suzanne Johnston and Gerald Richard said they’ve spent the last several months touring the province in order to “listen and learn” and have looked to address short term issues in accessing primary health care.
Among current progress, Johnston pointed to virtual care visits, which are now covered by Medicare, and the broadened scope of practice for pharmacists.
Few details were provided on what is in the works to address staffing shortages across the health care system. Johnston says a “team has been working collaboratively to implement some changes in the recruitment and retention of physicians, nurse practitioners and all of the people who support the clinicians.”
But details on what those changes are were not provided. Johnston said she is not an expert in health care human resources, but is an expert in “culture of organizations.”
“It’s about leadership and it’s about developing the culture where people can flourish in their work,” she said.
“So it is part of the work that we are doing to be able to support and initiate strategies that will enhance the culture of New Brunswick and the health system where people long to come here and work.”
A website is due to be launched this week that will have a dashboard with information on various different pieces of the plan, including on what’s being done to recruit and retain workers.
When asked what impact ongoing staff shortages will have on implementing the plan, which has so far included adding nurse practitioner positions, Johnston said that would be better answered by Health Minister Dorothy Shephard.
Shephard was not made available for an interview.
“Their update today illustrated many of the advances we’ve made in health care, over a short period of time, and shows that the provincial health plan is having a positive impact on the delivery of health care to New Brunswickers. There is still work to be done, but that’s why the plan lists the milestones we want to reach,” Shephard said in a statement.
“The health plan identifies critical building blocks, including the recruitment and training of people, to ensure a better system. This is an ongoing focus that requires attention from all involved in the delivery of healthcare, including our communities.”
Both opposition health critics say the lack of details on recruitment is concerning.
“At the end of the day this is the core of the problem. If we don’t’ have human resources we are not able to offer services across the province to New Brunswickers,” said Liberal health critic Jean-Claude D’Amours.
“If we can’t change that channel quickly we’ll face a problem worse than it is now.”
Green health critic Megan Mitton called Wednesday’s briefing “not much of an update.”
“We didn’t get any progress reports on any key issues,” she said.
“I would like some really clear information about what has been implemented.”
Recruitment and retention are mentioning in the health plan, but do not form one of the central action items which has been one of the main criticisms of the plan.
“I don’t get the sense of urgency we should have around this issue. It’s not a new issue, but it just seems like they’re just kicking the can down the road,” Mitton said.
New numbers from the province show that the wait list for a primary health care provider is up to 63,000, which they say is due to new arrivals in the province. The plan says that that list is due to be eliminated in order to transition to a Primary Health Network, that will connect people waiting for a permanent health care provider with primary health services.
Shephard said more news will be announced on that in the coming weeks.