Doctors, nurses join election debate on improved health care

Doctors and nurses in New Brunswick are entering the election debate over health care and are calling on the next government to make hiring more family physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses and specialists a top priority.

Provincial medical society and nurses union push for next government to improve primary care access

Dr. Serge Melanson, president-elect of the New Brunswick Medical Society, is calling on the next government to hire 89 family doctors and 66 specialists as quickly as possible. (CBC)

Doctors and nurses in New Brunswick are entering the election debate over health care and are calling on the next government to make hiring more family physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses and specialists a top priority.

Paula Doucet, president of the New Brunswick Nurses Union, told Information Morning Moncton it's not a secret that 41 per cent of the nurses in the province are eligible to retire within five years.

"Every day nurses are going to work and working short," she said. 

"We have a number of vacancies ... and we've been saying for a number of years, to employers and government, you need to have a long term plan in place."

Dr. Serge Melanson, president-elect of the New Brunswick Medical Society, is also an emergency room physician at the Moncton Hospital.

He said the province needs to have more than a website if it's going to attract the more than 150 doctors that are needed.

The medical society wants the next government to hire 50 new family doctors, in addition to filling the 39 family physician vacancies and 66 specialist vacancies that already exist in New Brunswick.
Dr. Serge Melanson, president-elect of the New Brunswick Medical Society and Paula Doucet, president of the New Brunswick Nurses Union 15:18

"We need to be going outside of our province," Melanson said. "We need to be finding these physicians and we need to be explaining to them the benefits of living and working in New Brunswick.

"I honestly think that if we are able to meet with these physicians one-on-one or in groups and explain to them what can be offered to work and live in New Brunswick, that we'll actually have a lot of benefits."

The medical society has been monitoring the pledges made during the election. It said the NDP has committed to hiring 20 new physicians, while the Liberal party has said it would hire 90 new doctors.

Barriers to better service

Melanson is speaking to a group of medical students on Friday night at the University of Moncton about the possibilities of a career in the province. He said issues with the billing system also have to change.

New Brunswick's system controls where and how many physicians can work in the province. Melanson said it's the only province in the country that continues to impose the system.

"In my experience, when you're the only one doing something, you're either way ahead of the curve or you're way behind it," Melanson said. "I'd have to say, in my opinion, we're way behind.

"This billing number restriction actually offers barriers and reduces flexibility for physicians who arrive here in our province and want to work."

The medical society said the People's Alliance of New Brunswick, the Progressive Conservative Party and the Green Party have all pledged to eliminate the physician billing number system.

Nurse practitioners struggling

Doucet said there are also systemic barriers to nurse practitioners who want to work in the province.

While they are being educated in New Brunswick, when they graduate many can't find jobs and leave to find employment elsewhere.

Paula Doucet, president of the New Brunswick Nurses Union, wants the next government to hire more nurse practitioners to care for the more than 20,000 patients in the province who don't have family doctors. (CBC)

The union is encouraging whichever government is elected later this month to re-examine the primary care model and make it possible for nurse practitioners​ to find jobs within the province. That would reduce the number of people who currently don't have care, Doucet said.

The Liberal party has pledged to hire more new nurse practitioners to work in clinics in Fredericton and Saint John.

Mental health major challenge

Melanson and Doucet are also calling for improvements to mental health services, including access to psychologists and psychiatrists.

It's up to us... to keep the new government's feet to the fire and make sure that their promises are put into action.- Paula Doucet , N.B. Nurses Union

"We have a very high rate of anxiety and depression within our younger generation that really have no access to care," said Doucet, who has worked as an emergency room nurse in Bathurst.

"So when you go in the middle of a crisis and you see an ER physician or your family physician and then you're told that the wait time for a psychologist or a psychiatrist is 12 to 16 months? You know that's not acceptable for somebody in the middle of a mental health crisis."

Melanson points to the shortage of psychologists in New Brunswick schools as another symptom of the lack of mental health support.

Doucet said whoever is elected in New Brunswick, it will be up to citizens and health care workers to continue to push for improvements.

"It's up to us ... to keep the new government's feet to the fire and make sure that their promises are put into action," she said.

with files from Information Morning Moncton