NDP leader takes aim at physician recruitment

HALIFAX: Gary Burrill, the leader of Nova Scotia’s NDP party, doesn’t like what he’s hearing in terms on Nova Scotia’s doctor shortage and the wait list for patients looking for a family doctor.

Burrill spoke about the matter last week to The Reporter, and he cited a report from Auditor General Michael Pickup made to the House of Assembly on November 22. After that report, the NDP caucus obtained information about the patient wait list from the Nova Scotia Health Authority.

Burrill said Strait area communities are prime examples of areas failing to be served by the health system.

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“When you see the numbers for the communities your paper serves, that brings it home even more,” he said.

“They divide the Nova Scotia Health Authority into administrative regions for these physician counts, and one is Inverness/Richmond/Victoria where it’s just short of 1,000 people [888] on the formal register list. In Guysborough/Antigonish, they have 379 people who have placed their name on this list.”

Across the province, 39,965 Nova Scotians are currently registered as looking for a family doctor. Burrill said the actual number is much larger, as many folks have not signed on to the government’s official registry.

“We know there are a lot of people who haven’t called to be put on the list,” he said. “The Statistics Canada number is over 100,000, and that’s in a province of less than 1,000,000 people. The best estimates are between 100,000 and 110,000 people are without a family doctor.”

The auditor general’s report stated that there are currently 55 unfilled vacancies for doctors across the province. The report is on-line and can be found at: www.oag-ns.ca.

It offers a mixed review of the McNeil Liberals’ performance in health care.

Pickup’s conclusions included that the Nova Scotia Department of Health and Wellness and the provincial health authority were “doing a poor job of publicly communicating their plans for primary care and family doctor resourcing.”

However, the report also concluded the health authority does indeed have a physician recruitment strategy “but it needs to define and measure success.”

The final conclusion Pickup made was “the health authority’s long-term decisions about family doctor resourcing are based on the needs of the province and from consulting with key stakeholders.”

Part of the government’s physician recruitment strategy included sending representatives from the immigration department and health authority to the British Medical Journal Careers Fair in London, England. That trip took place last month, and Burrill was asked his thoughts on the province’s attempt to land British doctors.

The NDP leader said the taking such measures is good in theory, but he questions if the provincial government is making Nova Scotia an attractive place for physicians.

“I think the government’s hyper-focus on creating one, super-centralized health authority, while doing an inadequate job of listening to the people actually providing services, has created a situation where our own doctors and health care professionals are not apt to recommend our communities as places for people to come,” he said.

“I think they’re overall approach has actually been undermining recruitment of new doctors and retention of the doctors we have.”

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Grant McDaniel
Sports reporter Grant McDaniel is a Port Hood native, who after graduating from StFX University, joined The Reporter in 2001.