Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia doctor shortage plan won't roll out until 2017

The province's short-term plan to address doctor shortages in some parts of the province is ready to go, but won't roll out until 2017 due to recruiting delays.

Program will see doctors rotate through underserved communities for a year

The province's short-term approach to addressing doctor shortages in parts of Nova Scotia should launch in early 2017. (CBC)

The provincial health authority has finalized a plan it hopes will address doctor shortages in underserved areas of Nova Scotia, but it won't be ready until next year.

In July, Health Minister Leo Glavine said he hoped to have the plan ready in a couple of weeks, but until Thursday there had been no update since then.

Dr. Lynne Harrigan, vice-president of medicine and integrated health services for the health authority, said the new vacancy replacement program will see up to eight doctors at a time paid a salary for one year to rotate through four practices in Digby, Shelburne, Tatamagouche, the Halifax area and Cape Breton.

Recruitment issues lead to delays

Participating doctors will work with a local physician mentor and be under no obligation to stick around when their year is complete. While there are eight spaces, Harrigan said, the program will be able to run with as few as four doctors.

Harrigan said the delay is due to most available doctors already being committed to temporary placements for six to eight months as of July.

"We're working very diligently to try to get those positions [filled] and we think we'll be able to recruit to those positions by early 2017."

Mentorship an attractive component

The spaces are open to anyone, said Harrigan, although she said it's mostly people in their first few years of practice who will likely apply. There's been a lot of interest from residents, but because the health authority could not guarantee the program would be ready at the start of July, those residents chose other options, she said.

"The people that we've talked to about this are very excited about it, because it gives them an opportunity to get four different really good experiences with mentors. And, particularly for those physicians in their first years of practising, that's invaluable."

This approach has been made necessary, in part, to fill the gap in underserved communities as the health authority prepares to roll out collaborative care practices across the province. Completing that work, deemed the future of primary care in Nova Scotia, could take up to 10 years.

Doubling as a recruitment tool

Harrigan said the vacancy replacement program would remain in place as long as necessary.

Health authority officials are hoping the program also serves as a recruitment tool. Doctors will be able to put down roots in one of the communities at the end of their year of service, should they desire. As the needs of certain communities in the program become filled, the program could move to another underserved area, Harrigan said.

"We hope that this will be a program that will continue to be in existence once it's established," she said.

"I think the best message I could ever receive is that we have to shut down this program, because that means we have completely solved our shortage."