Nova Scotia

Work on physician resource plan has never stopped, says health minister

The province’s health minister says despite the lack of a public update on the physician resource plan since 2016, the work has never stopped.

Delorey says plan is regularly updated, but public posts have stopped for now

The province's physicians resource plan hasn't been publicly updated in three years, but officials say work behind the scenes is ongoing and regularly monitored. (Shutterstock)

The province's health minister says despite the lack of a public update on the physician resource plan since 2016, the work has never stopped.

Annual updates of the 10-year human resources outlook were posted online in 2014, 2015 and 2016, but there has been nothing added to the Health Department's website since then.

The purpose of the plan is to assess future needs in the system.

The plan projects how many doctors need to be recruited each year. But Delorey said Health Department officials, starting about a year ago, began questioning the accuracy of numbers they were getting from the program they were using.

"The results that we were seeing we didn't think actually aligned with the reality that we were seeing," Delorey said.

Health Minister Randy Delorey. (CBC)

Despite what they knew to be true and what was being reported by the provincial health authority, Doctors Nova Scotia and other partners, Delorey said the program kept projecting a need for about 100 doctors a year.

"If you talk to Nova Scotians and clinicians, I think they realize the demand — particularly in certain areas — might actually be a little bit higher."

As of Friday, the health authority was advising 131 physician openings. The province recruited 130 doctors in 2018-19, 103 in 2017-18 and 111 in 2016-17, but that doesn't take into account how many leave the system each year.

Delorey said officials aren't sure what the actual need would be each year, but are generally operating with the view that as many doctors as possible will be recruited, particularly when it comes to family medicine, emergency medicine, anesthesiology and psychiatry.

"Regardless of what the resource plan says about today or this year or next year's recruitment plan for the health authority, the reality is we're already informed by the vacancies that we have today that need to be filled and that alone is a significant amount of work for the recruitment," he said.

The minister said work is happening in his department to develop an in-house analytical tool that would track future needs. There's time to perfect that for the long-term, he said.

More immediately, Delorey said the plan has helped inform recent decisions such as adding 15 specialist residency seats at Dalhousie University's medical school and creating the rural family medicine residency programs based in Yarmouth, Cape Breton and Truro.

Kevin Chapman, director of partnerships and finance for Doctors Nova Scotia, said the physician resource plan is doing what it was created to do.

At a time when the government and doctors have been engaged in prolonged and sometimes difficult contract talks, Chapman said the plan has been a rare area of continued collaboration that shows what's possible when everyone in the system works together.

Kevin Chapman with Doctors Nova Scotia says the plan is working as it should. (CBC)

Doctors have become more open to advising the health authority when they start to think about retirement or moving to a different position in Nova Scotia or elsewhere, said Chapman.

Info useful for students

Ideally, Chapman would like to see updates to the plan posted publicly again. He said the information is especially useful for students going into medical school and making decisions about residency. They benefit from knowing the future job prospects for the province, particularly if this is where they might want to eventually practise, he said.

Delorey wants public reporting again, too, but not until his department has a system in which they can have confidence. To do so sooner would be a disservice, he said.

"I think we have a responsibility to ensure that when we release and have information that we make available publicly, that it has to be accurate information."

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About the Author

Michael Gorman is a reporter in Nova Scotia whose coverage areas include Province House, rural communities, and health care. Contact him with story ideas at michael.gorman@cbc.ca

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