There are now more than 74,000 people on the list to get a family doctor in the province.
Mike and Laura Weinrauch moved from Kentucky to Ontario before finally making their way to New Brunswick about six months ago and immediately put themselves on the list for a physician.
They’re still waiting.
“The waiting list situation is something that took us a little bit by surprise,” Laura Weinrauch said. “I mean we did our research, we knew there were going to be some challenges, but I don’t think we realized it was going to be years and years.”
The two, who now live just outside Fredericton, have no immediate health concerns but the anxiety of not having a family physician is a burden.
“We think twice about getting on a bike, or going skiing, or even getting behind the wheel of a car because, what if?” she said.
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“It has really caused some anxiety,, just a little bit, with our quality of life, just in the stress of, ‘What if I get hurt today?’ or you know, ‘What if my appendix bursts today?” Stuff like that.”
Mike Weinrauch said the family is fine to wait, but eventually, the wait will have to end. He especially said he wants to know there is a plan to tackle the list.
The two of them question the politics of it all.
“Whose responsibility is it and just stop going back-and-forth,” Laura said. “Do something about it because what they are telling us isn’t true. We are not going to have a nurse practitioner or GP by the end of the year.”
Former Health Minister Dorothy Shephard told CBC News in an interview on April 14, 2021, she would have every patient on the list on file with a doctor or nurse practitioner within six months. Shephard fell short of that self-imposed deadline.
Tanya Spracklin has been on the list since 2016.
She said in that time she’s had a major surgery with no follow-up, she’s discovered a lump on her breast and couldn’t book regular mammograms and has abnormal cells in her uterus and requires a hysterectomy.
“She said every three months that I wait, the chances it turns into cancer raises 35 per cent,” she said of an appointment she had in a walk-in clinic.
Spracklin said even if she does get the surgery, there is no way she’ll be able to get follow-up care. For her, sometimes the only option is the emergency room, which can mean extensive waits.
“I’m now taking anxiety meds because of it, which I can’t get refilled half the time, either,” she said. “Even though the ER was the one who began me those meds, every time I go to the ER, they say this is the last time they can give them to me and I can’t them refilled anywhere else.”
She said it’s all overwhelming.
“I just want the health-care system fixed,” she said.
Government, stakeholders respond
The Department of Health could not provide any data for the months of April, May or June for the waitlist. It did confirm the list has grown to 74,000 people, increasing by a staggering 34,000 people in eight months.
“Five thousand New Brunswickers were matched with a physician from January to August of this year,” said department spokesperson Shawn Berry. “The number of people being added to the list has grown since the spring due to many factors including planned retirement by doctors and people who are moving to other areas.”
The New Brunswick Medical Society said in an email statement it is disconcerting to see the numbers increase.
“Additional patients without a family physician lead to more strain on already overtaxed emergency departments and walk-in clinics,” said president Dr. Mark MacMillan.
He said the organization, while try to recruit more doctors to the province, must also place attention on keeping the ones already practicing here.
MacMillan said the NB Health Link initiative, being piloted in Moncton, is expected to help patients without a family physician.
“We look forward to more widespread implementation in the months to come,” he said.
But for residents like Mike and Laura Weinrauch, it’s not much comfort.
“We seem to be losing doctors, but not gaining many,” Laura said. “It’s broken promises until it isn’t.”