Health

Nova Scotians most in need of family physician not being prioritized: report

Auditor general says province needs to fix registry with long wait list

Auditor General Michael Pickup addresses the audit of health and wellness department and health authority.   Taylor McCuaig

There are 37,000 people — more than the population of Sydney — registered on a wait list for a family physician in Nova Scotia, according to the provincial auditor general. 

“At the end of the day this is about people,” said Auditor General Michael Pickup. “It’s about how people are going to be served and the stress that people may feel, as they wonder how they’re going to get primary care today and in the future.”

The auditor general’s report, released Wednesday, looked at family doctor resourcing, mental health services and home care support. Pickup and Health Minister Randy Delorey both held separate news conferences to discuss the findings. 

The report found the Department of Health and Wellness and Nova Scotia Health Authority lack a process for identifying and assisting Nova Scotians who do not have a family doctor and who have serious health conditions.

The lack of assistance to people with serious health conditions relates to the organization of the registry of people in Nova Scotia who are in need of a family doctor. The list does not have a means of differentiating between people with serious health problems and those who are in need of a doctor but their need isn’t as urgent. 

Delorey said implementing a way to prioritize people who are most sick would be difficult.

“I’m not aware of a solution to achieve that desired outcome,” he said.

Jamie Baillie, leader of Nova Scotia’s Progressive Conservatives, said he didn’t believe the registry was doing what people on it expected.

“It is a sham registry as far as I’m concerned, when it doesn’t actually lead you to a doctor or take into account your serious illness,” he said.

Delorey was unable to provide a clear indication of how long it would take Nova Scotians on the registry to get a family physician.

“Times would vary,” he said, adding that since the registry was started a year ago, between 4,000 and 5,000 people have found a family doctor.

As of October, there were 55 unfilled doctor vacancies for family physicians across Nova Scotia.   Taylor McCuaig

One of the overall conclusions of the report said the health authority needs to create a way to measure how successful it is at recruiting new doctors to Nova Scotia. According to the Department of Health and Wellness and health authority’s predictions, 512 family physicians would be needed in the next 10 years. This breaks down to roughly 51 new physicians per year.

Delorey said to his understanding the government is on track to recruit enough doctors to achieve this number. From April 1 to Oct. 31 more than 20 family physicians have been recruited.

No clear communication

The auditor general’s report also outlined multiple problems with the inability of the department and health authority to communicate with Nova Scotians. Pickup said the department did not have a communication plan in place.

“Nova Scotians have not received clear communications from the health authority and the department on how they intend to provide people in the province with primary care,” said Pickup.

The report recommends the department and health authority implement a communication plan and update their website with consistent and clear information on planned changes to primary care service delivery.

“Some of this information, that we’re reporting in this audit, comes as useful information to people,” said Pickup. “Information that probably the auditor shouldn’t be explaining to folks; it should be the government … delivering this message to people.”

The department and health authority have accepted all recommendations set forward by the report.