New Brunswick

Province to open nurse practitioner clinics in 3 cities

The provincial government will open nurse practitioner clinics in New Brunswick's three biggest cities, hoping this will help alleviate pressure on a health system short of doctors.

New Brunswick Medical Society says about 44,000 residents are without family doctors

'We’re just getting started,' Health Minister Ted Flemming said after announcing a step aimed at reducing the wait list for family doctors. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

The provincial government will open nurse practitioner clinics in New Brunswick's three biggest cities, hoping this will help alleviate pressure on a health system short of doctors.

Horizon Health will hire 12 nurse practitioners to staff the clinics in Fredericton and Saint John, and Vitalité Health will hire six nurse practitioners for a clinic in Moncton.

The announcement was made at a news conference in Fredericton on Monday.

In all, the province will hire 32 nurse practitioners, with the 14 not staffing the new clinics being dispersed throughout the province.

The New Brunswick Medical Society said 44,000 New Brunswickers were without family doctors as July 2018.

'Just getting started'

Health Minister Ted Flemming said there are too many New Brunswickers on the waiting list for family doctors.

"We're effectively cutting [that] in half," he said.

"And we're just getting started."

The province estimates the new hires will mean 18,000 people will be removed from the waiting list, although Flemming said that doesn't mean the province will stop looking for family doctors to practise in New Brunswick.

Eight of the nurse practitioners hired by the networks will be employed to help treat low-urgency cases at the Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital in Fredericton, the Saint John Regional Hospital and the two Moncton hospitals.

"They sit and wait while the heart attacks and serious car accidents are being dealt with, and they sit and they sit, waiting for [a doctor] to deal with a minor or less critical ailment," said Flemming. 

"Not acceptable."

Ending 'arms race'

Flemming said the plans to make greater use of nurse practitioners came about because Vitalité and Horizon, which are normally competing against each other for more staff and equipment, decided to take a collaborative approach.

Declaring this "arms race" over, Flemming said the nurse practitioner services represented a "new type of view towards health care in New Brunswick with respect to the government."

"Politicians need to get out of the way. Politics has no place in health care."

While a nurse practitioner can't provide all services that a medical doctor can, they can do a lot.

According to the Nurses Association of New Brunswick a nurse practitioner can diagnose illnesses and injuries, order and interpret tests and prescribe medications. 

Options for people without doctors

People without doctors either don't go to a doctor when they should or must try to get into an after-hour clinic for routine medical issues.

Flemming said he's "not the slightest bit concerned" about the cost of hiring the nurse practitioners, he also could not give a costing figure for the new hires, only saying the cost wouldn't be "exorbitant."

"You sound like the premier," Flemming said when asked by a reporter about the cost. He was referring to Premier Blaine Higgs's tight rein on spending for new projects.

With files from Shane Fowler

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