Health minister dodges questions on pregnant woman's search for doctor
Randy Delorey says there are no quick fixes for current physician shortage
Nova Scotia's health minister says the case of a pregnant Cape Breton woman who could not find a family doctor is an exception, and the Liberals' long-term plans to improve health care in the province will make a difference.
Randy Delorey was bombarded with questions by reporters following a cabinet meeting in Halifax after CBC News reported Thursday morning on Kirsten DeJong's challenges.
DeJong said she was turned down by about 40 physicians and had to go to the emergency room to finally get a referral to an obstetrician. She'll see that doctor for the first time nearly halfway through her pregnancy.
"This isn't, to my knowledge, the norm of situations that takes place in the province," Delorey said. "She's been referred to receive the services that's needed to help along with the pregnancy. At this point, I think it's an important part of the story to recognize."
Delorey was asked repeatedly if this was an acceptable level of care. But every time, he avoided a direct response.
The Nova Scotia Health Authority "has responded, indicating that there are processes in place to facilitate, to make sure that these individuals get referred to the services that they need going through the pregnancy process," he said.
Delorey also referred to long-term plans that he said will make a difference in tackling the shortage of doctors, including expanding the number of family residency spaces in the province. He said there are no instant solutions.
"They don't exist," he said. "What does exist is recognizing that we have to take steps to improve the availability of primary care providers. That includes the steps that we highlight frequently around the residency program, the clerkship program, the work around the collaborative teams."
Doctors Nova Scotia has brought forward one possible solution, which would be to open clinics specifically for those with chronic conditions who do not have a family doctor, and could include the treatment of pregnant women. That model was tested in Cape Breton, and Doctors Nova Scotia said it was a success.
It would require asking the current slate of family physicians — who have raised concerns about burnout — to spend a day or two a month in a clinic until more physicians can be recruited.
NDP Leader Gary Burrill said the government should acknowledge there's a "crisis" and "move on it." He said Delorey's responses don't cut it.
"All of these instances make up a pattern," he said. "They're not stories or anecdotes. They're real situations of real people from an overall situation from where the whole situation is breaking down."
Burrill said the Liberals are trying to pass off each health-care story as isolated "pockets" of problems.
"At what point do you have so many pockets that you have to acknowledge that these aren't pockets but a whole pair of pants? I think we're way past the pocket stage."
But Delorey asked for patience in dealing with a complex situation.
"Reported ratios of family primary care availability for residents is actually higher in Nova Scotia than most other provinces across the country," he said.
A report by the Canadian Institute for Health Information shows that in 2015, Nova Scotia did have the second highest number of family physicians per 100,000 people in the country, next to Yukon. But there are no updated numbers, and several physicians have either retired or left the province in the last two years.
Doctors Nova Scotia estimates 100,000 people in the province do not have a family doctor.
Delorey also said the benefits of the two-year-old amalgamation of health authorities will also become clearer in the future. He said already patients have been able to access services in other communities where wait-lists are shorter.
"I think when people do step back and then look at the situation, many of these challenges that we're working to address to improve our health-care system are consistent from many, many years, they're consistent over time. They're consistent not just in a Nova Scotian context but across the country."
Readers who wish to share their story about searching for a physician can contact Carolyn.Ray@cbc.ca.