Nfld. & Labrador

Difference of opinions on number of doctors working in N.L., says health minister

A recent report says there are 629 licensed family doctors across the province, but only 431 of those are practicing full time.

Haggie said 1 thing everyone can agree on is that no one can agree on the number

Provincial Health Minister John Haggie says N.L. has more doctors than ever before, but data shows the amount of services offered hasn't changed in nine years. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

A report released Wednesday by the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association says there are 629 licensed family doctors across the province, but only 431 of those are practicing full time.

On Thursday, provincial Health Minister John Haggie said one of the things everyone can agree on is that no one can agree on the actual number of doctors practicing in Newfoundland and Labrador.

"The NLMA have one snapshot, the College of Physicians and Surgeons have another and the regional health authorities have yet a third," Haggie said about the number of family doctors practicing in the province currently.

The NLMA contracted family physician Dr. David Peachey to write a report, citing an absence of a provincial plan to address the shortage of family doctors.

Peachey is based out of a Nova Scotia health care consulting firm Health Intelligence, and has written similar reports for other provinces. 

In it Peachey also indicated 60 more full time family doctors are needed in Newfoundland and Labrador immediately to address the province's shortage.

Haggie said that by moving flu shots to community clinics it has freed up 5,000 general practitioner appointments for other medical needs. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

"Yes there's a problem. Yes we've acknowledge that," Haggie said. "[We're] happy to hear what the NLMA have to say. [I'm] delighted to talk to Dr. Peachey. He and I have already opened a dialogue and we have made significant strides in primary care over the last three years."

Haggie said the province actually has more doctors, on paper, than it ever has.

He said that over the last nine years, 68 new family doctors have joined Eastern Health. But, he said while there has been a yearly increase in family practitioners in the province, the number of services provided by those family doctors over the last nine years has not increased.

Haggie said the real issue in the province is around access to services and establishing collaborative care teams which will include nurse practitioners, registered nurses, midwives and dietitians.

"To do that, in that setting, will go a significant way on Dr. Peachy's own number," he said.

"When we moved the flu shots to public health room clinics, this year alone, since the start of the flu season, we have freed up 5,000 general practitioners appointments."

Not calling it a crisis

Haggie still isn't saying that the province is in doctor shortage crisis, but did say that in certain circumstances and in individual cases it may feel that way to those who lose their family doctors. 

Haggie countered with the fact that a new clinic has opened in St. John's, is taking new patients and it wasn't there as of three weeks ago. He added there has been success in Corner Brook and Bonavista and that regional health authorities are changing their mandates to include primary care.

"Traditionally it hadn't been. We're trying to move — and the NLMA, I think — we're trying to move from a 1960s-1970s model of care which is siloed, into the 20th century," he said.

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Anthony Germain

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