Access to a doctor is a major issue in this election campaign. The three largest parties have promises in their platforms to attract more doctors, especially to rural Nova Scotia, and the New Democratic Party has been promoting its record while in power.
Here's a line we've often seen in health-care related press releases and it’s a line repeated by New Democrat Leader Darrell Dexter at his campaign stops:
"Under the NDP, there are 400 more doctors working in Nova Scotia."
We checked that number with the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Nova Scotia and the actual number is quite a bit lower.
At the end of 2008 — six months before the New Democrats took power — there were 2,285 doctors practising in Nova Scotia. As of Sept. 30, 2013 that number is 2,531 — an increase of 246 doctors, not 400.
When you break that number down further, two-thirds of those new doctors — 164 of them — are specialists. The number of family doctors between 2008 and 2013 increased by 82.
We asked the New Democratic Party how they got the number of 400 new doctors.
The party told us they looked an annual report, released in 2009, from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Nova Scotia that stated there were 2,285 doctors working in Nova Scotia as of Dec. 31, 2008. They then looked at the current membership list on the college's website and found there are 2,701 current members, giving them a difference of a little more than 400.
The issue is that the membership list on the college's website includes doctors who have left Nova Scotia to work elsewhere but have paid their dues to keep their Nova Scotia licence active.
According to a spokesperson from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Nova Scotia, the actual number of doctors currently working in Nova Scotia is not 2,701, but rather 2,531.
Highest ratio of doctors to population
According to the latest figures available from the Canadian Institute for Health Information, Nova Scotia has 250 doctors for every 100,000 people. That's far above the national average of 214 doctors per 100,000 people.
When you break it down further and look at the number of family doctors — the doctors most of us deal with on a regular basis — we still have the most per capita in the country. Nova Scotia has 127 family doctors per 100,000 people. Again, that's higher than the national average of 109 family doctors per 100,000 population.
That number may come as a surprise to Nova Scotians, especially in rural areas, who are having a hard time finding a family doctor. Let’s look at how each party is promising to bring even more doctors to our province:
The Liberals are promising tuition relief: up to $120,000 for 25 doctors per year for four years, if they promise to practise in under-serviced areas for at least five years. They will also establish a physician recruitment and retention team to attract and keep new doctors.
The Progressive Conservatives are also offering financial incentives for doctors if they commit to working in rural Nova Scotia for five years. They say their program will help new doctors purchase equipment or pay overhead costs. The costs for that program would be $1 million in the first year, increasing to $2 million a year after that.
The New Democratic Party isn't offering anything new in its platform. It’s promising to build on the work of its physician resource plan, which it points out has been successful in bringing hundreds of new doctors to Nova Scotia over the past five years.