N.S. physicians hope doctor shortage becomes federal campaign issue
TORONTO -- In Nova Scotia, a doctor shortage provides a snapshot of a national crisis when it comes to patient access.
According to the Nova Scotia Health Authority, more than 50,000 Nova Scotians are without a family doctor, despite the 2,231 licensed physicians in the province, 1,093 of whom are a registered family physician.
Residents without regular doctors have turned to emergency rooms for more routine issues, leaving the province’s hospital system bursting at the seams and forcing some patients to wait upwards of five hours for care.
“We are all overwhelmed,” Dr. Yousif Gadir, a family doctor at the Colchester East Hants Health Centre in Truro, N.S., told CTV's Chief Anchor and Senior Editor Lisa LaFlamme.
According to the NSHA, Nova Scotia saw 575,400 emergency room visits in 2018, an increase of more than 25,000 from 2015.
Gadir said he met with nine patients within a two-hour stretch on Tuesday morning and six of them did not have a family doctor. This shortage has real-world consequences for people in the province, he added.
“So many times we diagnose cancer in the emergency department because they don’t have proper care,” Gadir said.
In April, Inez Rudderham, who was diagnosed with Stage 3 rectal cancer but is now cancer-free, made national headlines when she posted an emotional video online where she blamed Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil and his failure to address the doctor shortage for her diagnosis. She had said at the time that her cancer was missed for years because she didn’t have a family doctor.
The doctor shortage is not solely a problem in Nova Scotia, either. According to Statistics Canada, nearly 4.8 million Canadians said they didn’t have a regular doctor -- with the highest rates reported in Quebec, Saskatchewan and British Columbia.
"There’s a shortage of family physicians coast to coast,” said Dr. Tanya Munroe, family and emergency physician in Truro. “Patients unfortunately may only have the emergency department as access point to care.”
While health care is largely an issue for the provinces, Gadir thinks the doctor shortage and emergency room wait times should be an issue in the federal election.
“The problem is the same everywhere,” he said. “The government -- local and federal – they have to do something.”
For what it’s worth, federal parties have offered up some solutions. The Liberals have pledged $6 billion over the next four years to help with access to a doctor, improved palliative care, standardized access to mental health services and to “take the critical next steps to implement national universal pharmacare.”
The NDP health care plan primarily focuses on universal Pharmacare, but they also pledge to “recruit and retain the doctors, nurses, and other health professionals Canadians need,” though the details are limited.
The Conservatives have not yet released their full platform, but the party said it would invest in advanced medical imaging equipment, which they say would reduce wait times.