A health centre on Digby Neck will be staffed part-time while the district health authority hunts for a new nurse practitioner.

South West Health did not renew the contract of the woman who had been doing the job for the past year. Now that the position is vacant, other nurse practitioners will be brought in on rotating shifts to offer service three days one week and two days the next.

The local MLA, Harold Theriault, said people will be forced to use the overworked emergency department at the Digby General Hospital.

The nurse practitioner in Freeport had a lot of patients, he noted.

"She's tending both islands down there — Brier Island and Long Island — and a lot of people off Digby Neck. Approximately 1,500 people she has to deal with down there," said Theriault.

Nurse practitioners work alongside paramedics to help people with their minor health problems.

Theriault said the provincial government has recognized the nurse practitioner program as a valuable solution to the shortage of doctors in the Digby area, and therefore should find the money to staff the health centre properly.

"There's big problems down there and they've got to be corrected. And these nurse practitioners will correct it. They're wonderful," he said.

Health Minister Maureen MacDonald said her department will do what it can to help the local health authority find a new nurse practitioner to staff the clinic full-time.

She admits the current arrangement is less than ideal.

"We want a full-time nurse practitioner in that clinic," MacDonald said. "But in the face of having lost the nurse practitioner, this is what we've been able to get in place temporarily."