ANTIGONISH: A local MLA is calling for the Minister of Health and the Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA) to address the problems of doctor retention at St. Martha’s Regional Hospital head-on.

Allan MacMaster, the Progressive Conservative MLA for Inverness, isn’t pleased that the hospital has lost 10 doctors in the past year, due to various reasons including, better pay in other jurisdictions, issues with changes to licensing regulations, practicing in places where they would spend less time on-call, and for family reasons.

“Some of them are due to the quality of life issues, being unable to have a good balance between work and home life, those are the things the health department and the health authority should be able to fix,” he told The Reporter in a phone interview on Monday. “If they can’t fix them, we’ll continue to lose more doctors. If we keep recruiting doctors, we’re probably going to keep losing them unless we address the issues that are causing the ones we have to leave.”

MacMaster has been rallying against the NSHA and Health Minister Randy Delorey, who represents Antigonish in the legislature, to actually speak out, but he said he has only had his questions danced around by Delorey.

“I would put this back on the Minister of Health, he is ultimately responsible, this hospital is in his own constituency serving us here in the Strait area,” he said. “For him and members of the health authority to say they can’t talk about these situations, now that may be true if you want to talk about specifics or specifics about an individual person, but the issues could still be discussed.”

MacMaster doesn’t think they want to talk about it because they don’t want to admit there is a problem.

Allan MacMaster

A representative with Delorey declined The Reporter’s request for a full-interview but provided a written statement.

“It would be inappropriate for the minister or the NSHA to speak about individual physician’s situations,” he said. “This is true whether the physician retires, moves to another part of the province, or takes an opportunity elsewhere. They are owed that respect and privacy.”

Delorey said with any profession, it is normal to have people retire or pursue new opportunities while others join an organization in a given year.

“Antigonish is no exception,” he said. “Within the last year there were some doctors Owho retired or pursued new opportunities, but seven new doctors began practicing in Antigonish — three new family physicians, and four new specialists.”

Only one of the 10 doctors who left St. Martha’s in the past year retired.

MacMaster questioned what good is recruiting doctors if the retention issue needs to be addressed.

“I don’t think they want to talk about this because it’s negative, and it shows that there is a problem with management in the health care system,” he explained. “And because they are the ones that are managing it, they don’t want to talk about it.”

Randy Delorey

Delorey said it’s important to note the Eastern Zone, which includes Antigonish, has seen positive results within NSHA’s “Need a Family practice registry.”

“Between March and April, there was a reduction of 2.1 per cent in the number of people seeking a family doctor, the best result of any region during that period,” he said. “Recruitment to fill the existing vacancies is ongoing and there are active discussions with at least two additional specialists.”

When asked if the minister was approaching this any different since the hospital is in his own riding, it was reiterated that Delorey is the health minister for the entire province and the NSHA is dedicated to improving access to care and recruiting the health care professionals necessary to provide that care, across the province.

MacMaster noted that nobody is asking Delorey to give Antigonish special treatment, just to accept the fact there is an issue with retention, which he classified as basic management of the health care system.

“If this is the state of his own constituency, God help the rest of the province.”

No matter where somebody lives, the NSHA wants to ensure more Nova Scotians have access to health care. Last year, 130 new doctors started working in the province, 57 of which were family doctors. To enhance their recruitment and retention efforts, the NSHA have boosted pay for family doctors and created new incentives.

Continuing to invest in collaborative primary care with an additional $10 million in this year’s budget, Delorey said the NSHA’s ongoing work to enhance recruitment efforts across the province added a new recruitment approach by allocating $200,000 to support communities across Nova Scotia.

“We’ve added 25 new residency seats and launched a new practice ready assessment program to help internationally-trained doctors practice here, [which] added more flexibility to our doctor recruitment incentives.”