New Brunswick

Medical society applauds 'fantastic' goal to have a doctor for everyone within 6 months

Doctors in New Brunswick are ready to start working "immediately" with Health Minister Dorothy Shephard to achieve her target of providing a family physician or nurse practitioner to every resident of the province within six months.

Health Minister Dorothy Shephard aims to provide doctor or nurse practitioner to every resident by September

Dr. Jeff Steeves, president of the New Brunswick Medical Society, is pleased Health Minister Dorothy Shephard has set an ambitious goal to improve access to primary care within six months. (N.B. Medical Society)

Doctors in New Brunswick are ready to start working "immediately" with Health Minister Dorothy Shephard to achieve her target of providing a family physician or nurse practitioner to every resident of the province within six months.

Dr. Jeff Steeves, president of the New Brunswick Medical Society, said he's encouraging to hear a "hard goal" with measurable outcomes.

"I think it's fantastic that there's a line in the sand now and that there's a time frame," he said. "I think it is ambitious but that's what we need at this point." 

On Monday, Shephard told CBC that she is "absolutely committed to eliminating the wait list on Patient Connect," which on Dec. 31, 2020, included the names of 44,226 people without a family doctor or nurse practitioner. 

When asked what her time frame was to accomplish that goal, she replied: "I'm certainly looking within the next six months."

Work must start immediately

Steeves said after years of having tens of thousands of people without a primary care provider, the New Brunswick Medical Society will "enthusiastically" work with the Department of Health and the regional health authorities.

"That tripartite group working aggressively with a goal might actually move this forward," he said. "So I think the three groups have to be asked to get together immediately to come up with a plan."

In his mind, that plan will need to include aggressive recru.itment and an accurate list of the residents of New Brunswick who are without a family doctor or nurse practitioner.

Shephard said her staff are currently doing a "comprehensive outreach" to verify the names on the Patient Connect list.

"And there is a significant number — I'm not going to give you that number today until we get it finalized — but there's a significant number who have not been able to be reached by not only several calls, and then a letter has gone out, and then we're doing seven more calls after that."

Shephard said if people cannot be reached, they will be removed from the list.

Health Minister Dorothy Shephard is aiming to eliminate the wait list for a primary health-care provider in New Brunswick by September by hiring more nurse practitioners and recruiting more doctors. (Ed Hunter/CBC)

Recruitment will be key

Shephard is not satisfied with the "recruitment process," which was recently taken away from the regional health authorities. 

"I've … been told that I have family physicians who want to come home to practise here, and they can't even get a call back. So that's why we've taken recruitment into the Department of Health to lead it, working with our partners at the [regional health authorities] and the medical society and our associations."

It is challenging to recruit people because we are one of the poorer provinces … when you get a contact, be able to follow them up, so that you don't lose them, and then encourage them to get here.- Dr. Jeff Steeves, N.B. Medical Society

Steeves said doctors want to help with the effort to attract more physicians to the province.

"The number one recruiter for a physician is a physician," he said. "You need to have a physician that can share that this is a good place to work, that you're among a community of physicians that that are going to appreciate you being here and support your being here."

He believes the first place to focus is on the 60 New Brunswick medical students graduating each year.

"Their training gets finished in June of each year, and that's when they're looking for where to go. So we need to try to capture as many of those as possible right now."

Steeves said the province should be trying to keep as many of those medical students who will go on to become family doctors and specialists in the the province as possible.

The province has high hopes it can connect family doctors to New Brunswickers that need one in the next six months. We get the New Brunswick Medical Society's take when we speak with president Dr. Jeff Steeves. 7:58

He hopes the government will spend the $11 million in the budget that's been allocated for physician recruitment on advertising and building relationships with doctors who show interest.

"It is challenging to recruit people because we are one of the poorer provinces," Steeves said. "And when you get a contact, be able to follow them up so that you don't lose them and then encourage them to get here."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Vanessa Blanch is a reporter based in Moncton. She has worked across the country for CBC for more than 20 years. If you have story ideas to share please email: vanessa.blanch@cbc.ca

with files from Shift

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