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Nova Scotia's doctor waitlist hits all-time high at 100,000 people

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The number of Nova Scotians without a family doctor has hit an all-time high, with over 100,000 people on the waitlist this month.

Since the list became public in 2018, over 50,000 people have added their names to it.

A news release from the NDP caucus says it's a grim milestone as tens-of-thousands of families in Nova Scotia are left struggling to access to health care.

"Neither the Houston Conservatives or the Liberals before them have been able to make a dent in making sure people have a primary care provider,” said NDP Health and Wellness spokesperson Susan Leblanc in a news release. “While there have been some gains in hiring, that can only do so much when we see dozens of doctors retire or leave the province each year. There has to be a retention plan too.” 

According to a release from the NDP, the majority of people who added their names to the waitlist last month did so due to their doctor retiring, moving, or closing their practice.

As of July 1, a total of 100,592 Nova Scotians were on the Family Practice Registry.

Nova Scotia Health Minister Michelle Thompson says her Progressive Conservative government isn't surprised by the increase.

"We have seen that there are a number of physicians, as an example, who are preparing for retirement, and we know that people have gone on the list as a result of retirement, because they're anticipating retirement," said Thompson.

“I take the concerns people are feeling about access to health care very seriously. While there is no overnight solution to address the Need a Family Practice registry, I want to assure all Nova Scotians that we are working hard to recruit health-care professionals and improve access to primary health care."

According to the data released by the province, an average of 2,700 people found a doctor or nurse practitioner every month for the past year, but more than 7,200 added their names to the waitlist last month alone.

"It's a problem that was coming for a long time. It's a large iceberg, essentially," said Dr. Leisha Hawker, the newly-installed president of Doctors Nova Scotia.

While, she is also concerned, Hawker notes Doctors Nova Scotia is working closely with government to recruit and retain more physicians, many of whom Hawker says simply don't want the staggering workload their predecessors carried.

But she says there's also another factor at play.

"We also have a lot of new Nova Scotians - a lot of people immigrating to our wonderful province, so more and more people are adding themselves to the list," said Hawker.

The leader of Nova Scotia's NDP caucus, Claudia Chender, says she's hearing from people who are simply trying to renew routine prescriptions and are unable to.

"We know that there are efforts being made, but we don't have a health authority, we don't have a lot of transparency about what's happening," said Chender.

"So, what we know is we need a plan for primary care. How are you going to attach all those people? The premier calling doctors on the phone around the world is not going to fix this."

Despite the growing waitlist, Thompson says the province did have a record year of recruitment for physicians between April 2021 and March of this year.

There were 163 physicians recruited and 68 departures within that time frame, which results in a net gain of 95 physicians.

Of those recruited, 75 were family doctors and 88 were specialists.

"So, it's not that the steps we're taking haven't been effective. If those things had not been in place, we would be in a different position than we are right now," she said.

Evelyn Hornbeck is one of thousands waiting for a family doctor. She says she was forced to add her name to the waitlist in October when her doctor abruptly retired.

“It’s been very stressful having to go without a family doctor. I take prescription medication that I can’t get at a walk-in clinic and it feels like a ticking-time bomb coming up on the prescription I have running out,” said Hornbeck. “I put myself on the list but there’s no guarantee and it doesn’t seem like the Houston government is doing anything to make the situation any better soon.” 

In the month of June, the NDP says over 7,000 people added their names to the list.

The Liberals came to power in 2013 after promising a doctor for every Nova Scotian, while the Houston government ran on a promise to fix the province's health care just last year.

“What this list represents is tens of thousands of families that are struggling to make sure they have the primary care they need: young parents with children who can’t get their vaccines on time, seniors struggling to keep up with their prescriptions and everyone in between,” said NDP Leader Claudia Chender. “We hear it again and again, big promises on health care when the Liberals or Conservatives are trying to win power but little to no action that actually makes a difference for the people of Nova Scotia.”

The NDP says innovative and practical solutions are needed, including collaborative emergency centres, and collabortive health teams throughout the province to ensure everyone can get the care they need, when and where they need it.

A news release from Nova Scotia's Liberal party says one in 10 Nova Scotians are currently without access to a primary care provider – a number that rose about 40 per cent under the current government.

"No matter how you slice it, health care has gotten worse by every metric under Premier Houston,” Liberal Leader Zach Churchill in a news release. “Hospitals are pushed beyond their limits, the doctor waitlist is higher than ever, and people are going without lifesaving surgeries. It’s not enough to simply acknowledge the problem; Nova Scotians deserve the solutions they were promised.”

Churchill says Nova Scotia Health committed to providing access to virtual care for everyone on the registry by the end of June during a public accounts committee meeting on April 20. However, to date, only a fraction has been invited to benefit from the service, according to the party.

"The Houston government has consistently broken critical campaign promises that Nova Scotians elected them on,” says Churchill. “More people than ever are on their own when it comes to accessing health care because of this government’s mismanagement on the file.”

In May, Nova Scotia's doctor waitlist sat at about 92,000 people, -- which was a record-high at that time.

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