New Brunswick

Half of New Brunswickers afraid they won't get health care when they need it, survey finds

According to a survey commissioned by Radio-Canada Acadie, on average, people have to wait 16 days before they can see their family doctor or nurse practitioner for an urgent need.

Even those with a family doctor say access to health care is a problem

A hospital hallway is crowded with patients lying on stretchers as a paramedic checks on one of them.
Of the 400 New Brunswick adults surveyed, only 25 per cent said emergency health care can be obtained in a timely manner, while 51 per cent disagreed. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Half of New Brunswickers are afraid they won't get health care in time, according to a survey commissioned by Radio-Canada Acadie.

About one in two also fear they won't be able to access emergency health care or mental health care when they need it, the telephone survey of 400 random adults across the province in August found.

Only about a quarter of respondents said they agree health care is available when needed in a timely manner, while half disagreed.

Even people who have a primary caregiver feel getting care is difficult, the survey conducted by Narrative Research shows.

Seventy-seven per cent of respondents said they have a family doctor or nurse practitioner (86 per cent in the Moncton area, 77 per cent in the northern region and 72 per cent in the southern region).

Of those, only eight per cent said they were able in the past year to get an appointment for an urgent matter the same day, and 26 per cent within three days.

On average, people had to wait 16 days before they could see their family doctor or nurse practitioner for an urgent need.

"So once again, that really speaks to accesses as a huge problem." said Narrative Research CEO Margaret Brigley.

People in the northern part of the province faced the longest average wait to see their primary caregiver at nearly 21 days, followed by those in the Moncton area, at about 18 days and those in southern New Brunswick, at almost 11 days, according to the results.

Overall, 85 per cent of New Brunswickers believe the health-care system is in fair or poor condition.

New Brunswickers have less confidence in the health-care system now than at any other point during the roughly 30 years the polling firm has been collecting data on people's perceptions of health care, Brigley said.

Health care is very much a growing and major concern for most New Brunswick residents.- Margaret Brigley, Narrative Research CEO

"It's by far the lowest scores that we have seen."

In 1995, for example, the percentage who rated the health-care system only fair or poor was less than 50 per cent, compared to the current 85 per cent.

"What the research highlighted is that health care is very much a growing and major concern for most New Brunswick residents," said Brigley.

"There is a state of crisis in health care."

The situation is not unique to New Brunswick, she pointed out.

"Health care is now recognized as the most important issue facing each of the Atlantic Canadian provinces, and just in the past quarter, mention of health care as the most important issue has doubled in every single province in Atlantic Canada."

Among the Atlantic provinces, dissatisfaction is highest in Newfoundland and Labrador, where 90 per cent rated their health-care system as fair or poor. Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island tied at 83 per cent.

Access to health care is a problem many jurisdictions are struggling with, said Brigley, citing staff shortages as a major challenge.

"There is no question that … the pandemic has impacted this dramatically," she said.

Asked about their single greatest concern regarding the health-care system, most New Brunswick respondents said the shortage of family doctors (30 per cent), the shortage of health-care professionals/staff (16 per cent) and long wait times when seeking care (14 per cent).

Problem with access, not quality

The concerns of New Brunswickers are based on their experiences. Nearly half of New Brunswickers (48 per cent) who have tried to obtain care for themselves or a family member in the past year say they have had difficulty obtaining it.

When asked what issues they encountered, the top mentions  — unprompted — all relate to access to care, not the quality of care, said Brigley.

"New Brunswickers have a lack of confidence in access to the health-care system, but not necessarily to the health-care service or provision that we get when we actually are able to access the system. And that's a really important distinguishing characteristic here," she said.

Of New Brunswickers who have received care in the past year, 53 per cent say they are completely satisfied or mostly satisfied with the care they received.

Among the other Atlantic provinces, those who received health-care services over the past 12 months rated their satisfaction levels as: P.E.I., 62 per cent, Nova Scotia, 56 per cent, Newfoundland and Labrador, 49 per cent.

It is interesting to note that the satisfaction rate is higher among people 55 and older — who are more likely to have health conditions and access the health system more often, at 67 per cent, said Brigley.

Francophones more satisfied

There are also some notable differences between francophone and anglophone respondents, she said.

More francophones agree health care is available when needed, at 32 per cent, compared to 21 per cent of anglophones.

Francophones are also more optimistic when it comes to mental health care, at 30 per cent, compared to 20 per cent.

For emergency care, the level of confidence is similar between francophones and anglophones (26 per cent).

The survey was conducted between Aug. 10 and Aug. 31, among 400 New Brunswickers aged 18 or over — 173 in the southern region, 127 in the northern region and 100 in the Moncton area. The margin of error is ±4.9 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

With files from Catherine Allard and Nadia Gaudreau