New Brunswick

Doctors, nurses urge politicians to focus on what seems dismal outlook for health care

Medical professionals say the province's health care future doesn't look bright, and the next provincial government needs to do something to address startling numbers.

Wait lists expected to get longer as more doctors, nurses reach retirement age

The New Brunswick Medical Society says more than 30,000 New Brunswickers waiting for a family doctor. (Maria Jose Burgos/CBC)

Medical professionals say the province's health care future doesn't look bright, and the next provincial government needs to do something to address startling numbers.

The New Brunswick Medical Society says more than 30,000 New Brunswickers waiting for a family doctor.

Meanwhile, the province will also need to recruit 300 new doctors and 400 nurses over the next few years.

Medical society president Dr. Chris Goodyear says the next government will need to address these issues, and voters in the Sept. 14 election are expecting them to.

"We surveyed 400 New Brunswickers in August asking them what their top priority would be in the event of an election and close to 90 per cent felt that health care was their number one priority," said Goodyear. 

"Given what we've just been through, or currently going through, over the past six months in the middle of a pandemic, certainly it has been at the forefront of everybody's mind."

Goodyear said the numbers are stark for the province, and we're already starting to see service gaps because of the lack of medical professionals.

"We are seeing, you know, certain wards in hospitals unable to open because of nursing shortages," Goodyear said. 

"Operating theatres have been at reduced capacity in some hospitals in this province because of nursing shortages. We are seeing certain emergency departments, especially rural areas, unable to or struggling to staff with physicians to work there."

Things will only get worse, he said, looking at the demographics of doctors and nurses in New Brunswick.

Campaign promises

While health care hasn't played as big a role in this four-week snap election as in regularly scheduled elections, the parties have still offered some promises on the file:

  • The Progressive Conservatives have vowed not to close rural ERs, something they tried to do last year, and said they would speed up wait times for hip replacements.
  • The Liberals also promised to not close any ERs, would increase nurses salaries and offer tuition rebates to attract more nursing students.
  • The Greens promised to reduce isolation in nursing homes during the pandemic.
  • The People's Alliance promised more spending on drug rehab facilities and virtual care.

New Brunswick Nurses Union president Paula Doucet said the health-care system has been in a crisis for several years, yet nothing has been done about it so far.

She said recruiting young nurses will be key to replacing retiring nurses, but workplace issues need to be addressed before this can happen.

Medical society president Dr. Chris Goodyear said 90 per cent of the 400 New Brunswickers surveyed for the organization in August considered health care their number one priority. (CBC)

"We talk about homegrown and keeping people in the province well, we've got to give them that ability and I think an aggressive recruitment strategy has to be put in place," said Doucet.

"But the big thing is our working conditions and the fact that we need to be fairly compensated in comparison with our Atlantic counterparts."

Waiting on 2018

Doucet said issues that have been raised by nurses for years still haven't been addressed.

She cited the proposals unveiled by the union during the 2018 election campaign and the lack of movement on them.

"We had five pillars that were of the utmost importance for nurses in the province," Doucet said.

"Sadly our report card shows that in the last two years there has been a lot of ignorance to the five pillars that the nurses in this province have raised."

New Brunswick Nurses Union president Paula Doucet says the current government made no progress on issues the union cared about in 2018. (CBC)

Goodyear said it's difficult for new doctors to find work in the province, even though the province needs them.

He said a lot of this is because doctors have problems navigating the recruitment process in the province, and a centralized recruitment regime is needed.

"Speaking to a lot of new family physicians and specialists myself, there are often barriers to recruitment when it comes to trying to work in New Brunswick," said Goodyear. 

Political will

Doucet said what's also needed is a discussion with all the stakeholders on how to improve health care and the political will to make hard choices.

"I think they need to really push that agenda to say, 'You know what, it might be political suicide, this decision, but it's the best decision for today and the future,'" said Doucet.

"It's not only about making decisions to stay in government for four years or two years in this situation, but it's what's going to sustain for the next 10, 15 and 20 years."

With files from Information Morning Fredericton

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