New Brunswick

Tens of thousands of patients wait for family doctor in New Brunswick

Thousands of people have been added since the fall to the waiting list for a family doctor in New Brunswick, according to figures released by the province.

As of Dec. 31, a total of 44,226 people have been registered with Patient Connect New Brunswick

The province of New Brunswick competes with every other province to attract and retain physicians, who are in great demand across Canada. (Hannah McKay/Reuters/Pool)

Thousands of people have been added to the waiting list for a family doctor in New Brunswick, according to figures released by the province.

As of Dec. 31, a total of 44,226 people have been registered with Patient Connect New Brunswick, which pairs residents with a family doctor. 

In September, CBC News reported about 37,000 people in the province without a doctor or nurse practitioner.

Patient Connect NB has a list of more than 17,500 patients waiting for a doctor in Zone 3, which includes Fredericton and a large portion of the St. John River Valley.

"The hospital really is the only option for us," said Debbie Simmonds of Fredericton. 

Waiting for a doctor 4 years later

She and her husband moved to New Brunswick from Prince Edward Island in 2017 for work and to be closer to their children.

Four years later, they're still waiting for a family doctor.

Since then, Simmonds, who was diagnosed with a neurological condition in 2019 and has been off work for several months, has been relying on the emergency room at the Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital for care. 

Her mother, who moved to New Brunswick from Ontario in 2019, was diagnosed this past summer with ovarian cancer, managed to get a doctor. 

"Is this what has to happen to get a doctor?"

Simmonds called Patient Connect to make sure the couple are still on the list. She was told there was nothing available.

'I don't know what else to do'

The Fredericton resident said she has heard some people have been waiting up to eight years to get a doctor in New Brunswick. 

"We're still waiting. I don't know what else to do." 

Early last year, the province announced it would hire 32 nurse practitioners, but Simmonds is worried they're being lured to other provinces. 

During last year's province election campaign, Premier Blaine Higgs also promised to provide $5 million to recruit doctors in rural areas and $4.2 million to add nurse practitioners to clinics and emergency rooms.

CBC News has asked  Health Minister Dorothy Shephard to talk about the number of people waiting for a family doctor and a plan to have nurse practitioners fill in the gaps. Shephard was not available for an interview. 

Everyone deserves a family doctor

Dr. Jeff Steeves, president of the New Brunswick Medical Society, said it's disheartening to see so many people waiting for a family doctor.

But it's a challenge that has been going on for many years.

He said more physicians in New Brunswick are retiring, leaving patients without a family doctor.

People are also living longer and doctors aren't able to care for as many patients because they require more medical attention.

Dr. Jeff Steeves, president of the New Brunswick Medical Society, said the organization is working alongside government to bring more doctors to the province. (New Brunswick Medical Society)

Steeves said recruitment falls under the Department of Health and the two regional health authorities in New Brunswick.

But the New Brunswick Medical Society is working with government to lower the number of patients waiting for a family doctor.

"We're trying to work with government to significantly improve that list so that everybody can have a family doctor."

He said the goal is to reimagine how to recruit and retain new family doctors to New Brunswick to takeover when a family doctor retires. 

"Certainly all New Brunswickers would hope the trend would be going down from last year," he said.

"Every person in New Brunswick deserves a good family doctor."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Elizabeth Fraser

Reporter/Editor

Elizabeth Fraser is a reporter/editor with CBC New Brunswick based in Fredericton. She's originally from Manitoba. Story tip? elizabeth.fraser@cbc.ca

With files from Information Morning Fredericton

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