Stopping the doctor drain



SaltWire Network


Some 4,000 patients of a Halifax medical clinic have recently found out their physicians are closing the practice in August. A doctor in Summerside, P.E.I. sent a letter to his 2,100 patients in February, announcing he would be leaving the medical centre in April. In rural Newfoundland and Labrador, news of departing doctors continues in areas where they are the last ones practising. There are so many doctors retiring, moving or changing how they provide care, it has left hundreds of thousands of Atlantic Canadians without a primary care provider. Patient waitlists have ballooned across the region since SaltWire Network totalled them up in January 2019. There were 12,213 people on the patient registry in P.E.I. then and 28,277 now; in N.S. the registry went from 52,680 to 129,321; in N.L., which doesn't have a registry so numbers are estimated through polls, patients without a doctor rose from 60,000 to 136,000. The only place where the numbers are under control is New Brunswick, where 50,000 people were on the registry in 2019, it ballooned to a high of 74,000 in August 2022 and now sits at 59,000 patients. N.B. Health Minister Bruce Fitch gives partial credit to a new N.B. Health Link program managed by Medavie. The program, which was launched in July 2022 in Moncton, allows people on the province's patient registry to access online, in-person or phone appointments with a doctor or nurse practitioner. Fitch hasn't offered details about how much Medavie is charging taxpayers for this service compared to the public health system, but the impact on the patient registry is promising. Health authorities across the region are trying new things to address the doctor shortage, and all of them are worth considering in neighbouring provinces. Nova Scotia's College of Physicians and Surgeons announced March 6 it is the first province to allow American board-certified doctors to practise without extra accreditation. “These are challenging times for Nova Scotians seeking access to care in the face of physician shortages,” Dr. Gus Grant, the college's CEO, said in a news release. “We are making every effort to open the door wider to welcome physicians seeking licensure who are competent to deliver safe care to Nova Scotians.” Newfoundland and Labrador is also hoping for help from doctors practising elsewhere, including a Come Home Initiative that offers a $50,000, three-year, return-in-service agreement for doctors and nurses who used to live in the province. As well, N.L. Health Minister Tom Osborne led a team to Ireland in January in hopes of finding Canadian-born, Irish-trained doctors who might relocate to his province. These are all ideas worth pursuing. N.S. NDP MLA Lisa LaChance mused to SaltWire about the loss of the Halifax clinic, saying, “At every life stage we are all better off – we are all healthier – when we have a relationship with primary care ...” And when patients have access to primary care providers, there is less strain on ERs, specialists, long-term care and families, making a better health-care system for us all.