HALIFAX -- Nova Scotia hospitals' emergency departments were only open a total of 96 per cent of the time in fiscal 2017-18, continuing a negative trend seen in recent years.

The Health Department said Thursday most closures were in smaller, rural areas, and about half the province's 38 ERs weren't affected at all.

The closures have been slowly increasing for several years -- ERs were open 98.3 per cent of the time in 2015-16, and 96.7 per cent in 2016-17.

In total, emergency rooms were closed a total of 30,493.5 hours, while the report says there are 312,763 scheduled open hours annually for the province's emergency departments.

The report says as of March 31 of this year, 20 emergency departments were open for 100 per cent of their scheduled hours, while 33 were open at least 90 per cent of the time they were supposed to be.

Temporary closures were most acute in the northern part of the province, with 5,882 hours of closures, and the zone covering the eastern mainland and all of Cape Breton, which registered 4,238 closure hours.

North Cumberland Memorial Hospital in Pugwash had the most hours of closure in the north with 2,212, while the Glace Bay Health Facility had the most hours of closure in the eastern zone with 1,835.

"The majority of temporary closures occur in smaller, rural emergency departments," the report says.

Other hospital ERs with notable rates of closure included All Saints Springhill Hospital with 1,530 hours and the Strait Richmond Hospital with 828 hours. The Roseway Hospital in Shelburne saw 789 hours of closure.

The central province, including the Halifax area, had the lowest number of overall emergency department closures with 691 hours.

The bulk of that total was split between two rural hospitals -- Musquodoboit Valley Memorial Hospital with 298 hours and Eastern Shore Memorial Hospital with 227 hours.

The report says the closure hours at Musquodoboit Valley Memorial were intentional for "balance in physician scheduling between primary and emergency care," while there were eight closures at Eastern Shore Memorial in May and July due to "an unexpected decrease in physician resources."