Nova Scotia

Cape Breton doctors push to regain control of local decisions

Physicians in Cape Breton are trying to make healthcare a key campaign issue, saying they don't have enough support under a centralized health authority.

'I see things every day that break my heart,' says Dr. Margaret Fraser

Dr. Margaret Fraser, president of the Cape Breton Medical Staff Association, says the average wait of a little over a year actually seems low. (Nic Meloney/CBC)

Physicians in Cape Breton are trying to make healthcare a key campaign issue, saying they don't have enough support under a centralized health authority. 

"Today we are advocating for the broader community, for the people of Cape Breton, and our home," Dr. Margaret Fraser told a crowd of several hundred at a forum in Sydney Mines Sunday. Fraser works in emergency departments, has a family practice and assists in operations. 

The meeting was organized by area doctors who say the Nova Scotia Health Authority is spreading resources too thin. 

"I see things every day that break my heart. I see elderly people, people who worked hard all their lives, left on stretchers in hallways for days at a time."

Cost-saving merger

Nine of the province's former health districts were merged in 2015. The IWK Health Centre continues to function as a separate board. At the time, the Liberal government said the province would save $13 million a year, mostly through staff reductions and shared services.

Hundreds of people attended the forum on the state of healthcare in Cape Breton. Thousands are without a family doctor. (Nic Meloney/CBC)

Dr. Stacy MacDonald set up her family practice last year after finishing her residency in Sydney. She said the amalgamation has meant a loss of control over services that are important to the region. 

"Changing from a top-down system to a locally sponsored, locally governed authority or at least factions of the same, would help so that we can identify particular needs of our community and recruit people for specific areas," MacDonald said. 

MacDonald said specialists are leaving and family doctors are picking up the slack.

"We're having to make up for the lack of services," she said. "So we're expanding the scope of practice without formalized training, and without fee subsidies. We're not getting paid any differently than we did before."

Looking forward

Fraser agreed that more needs to be done on the recruitment front. 

Dr. Stacy MacDonald opened her practice in North Sydney in 2016. She says they need more local support from the health authority. (Nic Meloney/CBC)

"Our physicians are aging yet there is no realistic plan in place to replace them as they retire."

Fraser also addressed wait times for common procedures such as hip replacements, and pointed to how a shortage of family doctors affects patients. "The diabetes clinic cannot follow a patient if there is no doctors to send reports to."

With files from Nic Meloney