Ontario health minister Deb Matthews says expansion of the Lakehead Nurse Practitioner Clinic will depend on the next provincial budget.

The clinic is full and stopped taking new patients two months ago.

It has formally asked the province for funding to hire more nurse practitioners.

Matthews told CBC news she won't have an answer before the Ontario budget is finalized, which is weeks away.

"We have to get through the next hoop, which will tell us how much money we have to spend," Matthews said.

She said the need for primary care providers is a factor when the ministry considers funding applications.

Doris Grinspun, the CEO of the Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario, recently raised the Thunder Bay situation with the health minister.

"I actually advocated for three nurse practitioners, one registered nurse and one administrative support staff because, I believe they probably could easily double the number of patients that they are receiving already," Grinspun said.

Each nurse practitioner can work with about 800 patients.

20,000 without primary care provider

Grinspun added she had a positive meeting with the health minister, following her visit to the Lakehead Nurse Practitioner Clinic in February. She said she will continue advocating on its behalf.

"It is, to me, unconscionable that in Thunder Bay 20,000 people — at least — are without access to [a] primary care provider," Grinspun said.

"Yet in this [nurse practitioner-led] clinic, there is at least two or three ... exam rooms ready to go.  All that is needed is the funding to put more nurse practitioners in place."

Matthews told CBC News she's aware of the problem.

"This is an issue that the MPPs Mike Gravelle and Bill Mauro have raised with me," Matthews said. "I am so pleased to know that the community of Thunder Bay has embraced this model of primary care.  I can't commit to anything right now. We are in that pre-budget phase."

The date for the provincial budget has yet to be announced.