Waiting periods for counselling in N.B. 3 times the national average: data

Click to play video: 'Fewer Canadians say they’re in good health, study finds'
Fewer Canadians say they’re in good health, study finds
The inaugural report from the Canadian Institute for Health Information is indicating that fewer people are reporting their health is good. As Nathalie Sturgeon reports, it comes alongside other statistics that lend further evidence of the ongoing health crisis throughout the country – Aug 2, 2023

A snapshot report by the Canadian Institute for Health Information shows that only 60 per cent of Canadians reported their health was good, compared with 72 per cent just two years ago.

Data shows that the Atlantic provinces reported a higher proportion of the population saying primary care providers weren’t taking new patients.

The report also showed New Brunswick has an average wait time of 66 days for mental health counselling, three times the national average, which is 22 days.

It comes against the backdrop of both Nova Scotia and New Brunswick’s health-care systems facing enormous strain and staffing shortages.

“These are long-standing challenges for the health-care system, it’ll take time for the data to catch up with the efforts and the measurement to change,” said Kathleen Morris, vice-president of research and analysis with CIHI.

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She said some of the numbers are significant, including that 27 per cent of Canadians diagnosed with a mood or anxiety disorder have not had their mental health needs met.

“It’s a tough situation,” she said in an interview Wednesday. “We know mood and anxiety disorders are a big piece of mental health but they are not the only illnesses … and they are looking to try and increase the range of mental health conditions.”

The report also showed there was 13 per cent reduction in surgeries in New Brunswick during the first two-and-a-half years of COVID-19.

It was lower in Nova Scotia at nine per cent.

Alexandra Rose with the Nova Scotia Health Coalition said this has all led to a compounded strain on the health-care system.

She said it cannot keep pace with the aging population and the population that is now seeing health decline in addition to a global pandemic.

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“It’s put a massive strain on an already strained system,” she said.

Atlantic Canadians reported a higher proportion of physicians not taking on new patients.

In Nova Scotia, 86 per cent of the population has a primary care provider, but the remaining 14 per cent still represents more than 150,000 people.

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“We knew that this staffing shortage was coming; we knew 30 years ago and now it’s caught up with us and we can’t fix a 30-year mistake in a couple of months,” Rose said.

The numbers reported by CIHI, through Statistics Canada, align with Doctors Nova Scotia’s data on those waiting for a primary care provider.

Dr. Leisha Hawker, past president of Doctors Nova Scotia, said the data is not surprising and it can be frustrating to continue to see those who need primary care providers go without despite continued efforts to improve the situation.

“On top of that, (for) the roughly 85 per cent who do have a family doctor or primary care provider, a lot of time access is sometimes still an issue. A lot of primary care providers have a large practice and getting timely access is still an issue,” she said in an interview on Wednesday.

She said the plan to improve the situation regarding retiring doctors includes something called a tip-top program.

“Right now, if a family doctor retires, they close their practice and all those two to three thousand people go on the wait-list,” she said. “Under this new initiative, the family doctor would wind down their hours and their practice roster as someone else is coming on, like a younger physician.”

This also allows for mentorship and for the new incoming doctor to get familiar with the many patients they’ll end up taking on.

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In New Brunswick, 90 per cent of people have a family doctor, but there are still nearly 44,000 people waiting for a primary care provider.

The province has made progress, though.

“As of July 21, the provincial wait list has been reduced from about 74,000 to 44,000 since last summer, a drop of roughly 41 per cent,” Clarrisa Anderson with New Brunswick’s Department of Health said.

“Among those 44,000 patients is a total of 4,953 New Brunswickers, who have recently entered self-referrals online with NB Health Link, and they’re currently waiting to be validated and registered for the program.”

The report also showed New Brunswick has an average wait time of 66 days for mental health counselling, three times the national average, which is 22 days.

Health Minister Bruce Fitch said at a health-care announcement in Moncton that he believes the programs they have begun to implement are aiming to meet the needs of the population better.

In a statement, the department acknowledged that the need for mental health care is high.

“However, we have implemented a five-year action plan to address the increase in demand, and we are continually working to ensure there is greater access to the mental health services people need,” Anderson said in the statement.

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The province has also made progress on the surgery backlog.

“As a health system, the regional health authorities (RHAs) and the Department of Health are focused on improving access to surgery and reducing wait times,” Anderson said.

“There has been particular emphasis on hip and knee replacement surgeries, and thanks to recent initiatives there has been a reduction in the number of hip and knee surgeries that are waiting longer than a year.”

There are also no integrated youth services in Atlantic Canada, while there are 22 in Ontario and 15 in British Columbia.

Morris, with the CIHI, said while things are in development, the data shows it is slow to be put into action. She said many provinces can learn from each other and the experience they have setting up resources.

The New Brunswick government says it is committed to helping get resources to youth in the province, including a five-year pilot project that will assist communities to find ways to reduce substance use among youth at four sites across the province.

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