The N.W.T. government says the launch of a territorial midwife program based in Yellowknife likely won't begin until 2018 at the earliest, prompting concern that the plan is moving "at a snail's pace."

MLAs have called on the government for years to expand the territory's roster of midwives, who currently work only in Fort Smith and Hay River.

Yellowknife once had midwifery services but the government suspended them in 2011 while it worked on a territorial program.

In October 2015, Glen Abernethy, the minister of Health and Social Services, said the department had recruited staff to study potential models for the program. 

That discussion paper is complete, but now the department plans to hold focus groups in Yellowknife and seven other communities between now and mid-March.

"Once we get a model approved, then we have to do the design, do the implementation, job description writing, that will help us quantify what the costs will be," said Abernethy.

He confirmed the earliest funding could be made available is the 2018-2019 fiscal year — six years after the government responded to calls for community-based midwifery services.

"I think there's going to be a number of unhappy people," said Kevin O'Reilly, the MLA for Yellowknife's Frame Lake. "But, look, I do appreciate that this is moving along even if it's at a snail's pace.

"This has been dragging on for years."

When the government cancelled the Yellowknife midwifery program in 2011 and announced its plan for a review, Abernethy — then a regular MLA representing the city's Great Slave constituency — said, "I'm worried that this is going to end up being another report on a shelf as opposed to an action plan."