Nova Scotia is trying a new, two-pronged approach to attracting doctors, following up on a pledge from Premier Stephen McNeil after voters sent a clear message they were losing faith in the health-care system.

For the first time, staff from the province's Immigration Department will join the Nova Scotia Health Authority at an international jobs fair for health professionals.

The new recruitment team is headed to London to attend the British Medical Journal Careers Fair on Friday and Saturday. The job fair is one of Europe's most prominent recruitment venues, where more than 1,800 physicians are expected to be looking for opportunities abroad.

Campaign promises

Dr. Simon Bonnington, a family physician originally from the United Kingdom who has practised in the Annapolis Valley for seven years, will be part of the recruitment team.

"Sharing our combined health-care and immigration expertise will help us promote Nova Scotia as a great place to live and work to doctors abroad," Health and Wellness Minister Randy Delorey said in a statement released Wednesday.

Stephen McNeil Nova Scotia Election Liberal Leader

Recruiting more doctors became the main issue in the latter half of the provincial election campaign, which saw the Liberals win a reduced majority on May 30. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

The province's bid to improve recruitment follows a political backlash over the Liberal government's failure to deliver on a previous promise to ensure that every Nova Scotian has access to a family doctor.

It became the main issue in the latter half of last spring's provincial election campaign, which saw the Liberals win a reduced majority on May 30.

100,000 without a doctor

In his victory speech, the premier pledged to recruit more doctors, expand health services and address wait times for hip and knee replacements, particularly in Cape Breton, where at least three Liberals went down to defeat, including a high-profile cabinet minister.

As of Sept. 1, 35,777 people — about four per cent of Nova Scotia's population — had registered with the health authority's Need a Family Practice registry, indicating they do not have a primary care provider.

Statistics Canada figures from last year suggest the total number of citizens without a doctor is over 100,000, if you include those who haven't signed up on the registry.

In a region that has one of the country's oldest and sickest populations, doctor recruitment has proven to be a difficult task.

N.S. has a lot to offer

Doctors Nova Scotia estimates a current shortfall of 65 family doctors, and the organization is calling for the recruitment of about 500 additional primary care physicians over the coming decade.

Dr. Lynne Harrigan, a spokesperson for the health authority, said officials from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Nova Scotia will also be part of the recruiting drive.

"We've had success with recruitment and retention of physicians from the U.K.," said Harrigan, vice-president of medicine and integrated health.

"Nova Scotia has a lot to offer doctors: the opportunity to practise medicine on collaborative teams, enjoy the balanced pace of the East Coast, and be a key part of their community."

Immigration Minister Lena Metlege Diab said her department's staff will provide potential recruits with information on the immigration process.