Nova Scotia

'Hemorrhaging' of doctors from Cape Breton must stop, physicians warn

Six more doctors in the areas of opthamology, radiology, psychiatry and family medicine will be leaving Cape Breton by the end of June, doctors said Friday at a news conference.

'We are tired of being misled by the health authority,' says one Cape Breton doctor

Geriatric psychiatrist Dr. Jeanne Ferguson says the Nova Scotia Health Authority needs to do more to bring doctors to Cape Breton and keep them there. (Norma Jean MacPhee)

A group of doctors in Cape Breton is sounding the alarm over the "hemorrhaging" of specialists and physicians as news emerged Friday of six more doctors leaving the island.

Seven doctors held a news conference in Sydney to bring attention to the ongoing loss of medical professionals in the region.

"The hemorrhaging has to stop," said Dr. Jeanne Ferguson, a geriatric psychiatrist.

"We are tired of being misled by the health authority ... They are not competent to do what they're doing and that is the bottom line."

The doctors said six of their colleagues in the areas of ophthalmology, radiology, psychiatry and family medicine are leaving Cape Breton by the end of June.

Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Kevin Orrell said a lack of specialists on Cape Breton is one reason why other doctors choose to leave. (Norma Jean MacPhee/CBC)

"We have got to have local leadership and it has got to be competent," Ferguson said.

More docs coming, says NSHA

The Nova Scotia Health Authority said as of May 4, there were seven family medicine vacancies and 18 specialist vacancies in the eastern zone, which covers Cape Breton, Guysborough and Antigonish counties.

The authority said three new physicians hope to start this summer and another seven have pending offers to start in 2017, all in Cape Breton. Another five are expected for 2018-19, it said.

Dr. Kevin Orrell said the latest doctors to leave are going for many reasons, including the frustration of not being able to refer their patients to specialists that they need.

He said surgeons and other specialists do not like to come to hospitals where services are lacking.

'Others will follow'

"The snowball effect of losing some of these very significant people is that others will follow," said Orrell.

"And I think we have not seen the end of that."

Family doctor Dr. Meaghan Keating echoed Orrell's comments.

In a letter to patients, family physician Dr. Meaghan Keating says she has been busy with administrative work at the regional hospital and has no time left for her practice. (Norma Jean MacPhee/CBC)

The disparity in wait times compared with other areas of the province is also unacceptable, she said. 

"A patient in Cape Breton, on average, waits 247 days longer than a patient in Halifax to be seen by a mental health team," Keating said.

"As a GP, it is devastating to recommend a treatment that is inaccessible to them ... It's like writing a prescription for a medication that is vital to recovery and dating it nine months in the future."

Exit interviews voluntary, confidential

Orrell also pointed out that exit interviews are not being done with doctors so the reasons for their departures aren't being documented. 

Joanne MacKinnon, the health authority's provincial physician recruitment lead, said in an emailed statement that exit interviews are voluntary and confidential so as not to identify the doctors. 

Two doctors who recently completed interviews had different reasons for leaving, she said.

"One was part of their 'personal life plan,' the other was feeling overwhelmed," said MacKinnon. "Both indicated they would return and overall were quite favourable with their comments about [practising] in CB." 

A group of Cape Breton doctors called a news conference Friday in Sydney to talk about the urgency of the doctor shortage problem. (Norma Jean MacPhee/CBC)

Dr. Craig Stone said part of the solution is to include local voices in recruitment and retention strategies.

It is clear what the problems are, he said. Now it's time to fix them. 

"I'd like to see the politicians come out with a plan to fix those problems," he said.

"There's ample money in the system but it needs to be organized differently."

With files from Melanie Patten