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Patients discouraged as Nova Scotia's primary care waitlist climbs to 137K


Breaking records can be a good thing but patients aren’t impressed by the record number of people on Nova Scotia’s waitlist for a family doctor or nurse practitioner.

As of March 1, there were 137,587 patients on the Need a Family Practice Registry — representing about 14 per cent of the province’s population.

“It’s discouraging,” said Allie MacKay who finds herself on that list. “It’s hard to try to seek out care.”

Of the nearly 6,500 patients who added their names to the registry in February, about a third said they did so because they were new to the area while about a quarter said their practitioner’s office had closed or moved.

Linda Watters’s doctor retired recently.

“It’s awfully hard, you know because you have different issues but you think ‘oh well, it’ll go away’ and you just let it go,” Watters said. “And sometimes maybe you shouldn’t.”

Premier Tim Houston’s Progressive Conservative government was elected on a promise to fix health care.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the Department of Health noted how the population of Nova Scotia is growing and the province has expanded virtual care, added pharmacy clinics and launched mobile units.

According to data from Nova Scotia Health, between April 2022 and the end of February, 138 physicians started working in Nova Scotia — 66 of them are family doctors. But during the same time about 74 physicians left their practice — including 46 family doctors. NSH anticipates another 19 physicians to start practicing in Nova Scotia by the end of March.

Earlier this month, CTV News reported the Southend Family Practice, which serves about 4,000 patients, will close in August after failing to find common ground with the province to secure a replacement physician to take over any patients. Last week, CTV News also reported how a medical clinic in Clark’s Harbour has sat empty for two years.

According to Doctors Nova Scotia, about 25 per cent of Nova Scotia’s doctors are over 60 years old. Retirement hasn’t peaked yet but retention is also a challenge.

“There’s significant burnout amongst the medical profession and that includes family doctors,” said Dr. Leisha Hawker, president of Doctors Nova Scotia. “I think, too, the career as a family physician has gotten harder over the years.”

Hawker points out how physicians are seeing more complex patients that take more time than the typical 15-minute appointment.

There are calls for more collaborative care clinics where physicians work side-by-side with other practitioners including dieticians, social workers and mental health counsellors.

“But also these collaborative clinics need payment models that help to work with a collaborative team,” said Hawker.

“There’s a couple different models out there that aren’t fee-for-service that work better to support family doctors.”

Hawker also believes senior physicians should be encouraged to continue working in whatever capacity they can and want to in order to prolong their careers.

“In an ideal public health-care system, everyone would be working to their top of scope and we’d be working collaboratively together,” Hawker said. Top Stories

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