Nova Scotia

Long-promised plan to ease doctor shortage remains on hold

A program intended to rotate doctors through underserved parts of Nova Scotia has been delayed yet again, with no update in sight.

Only two people signed on to locum program, which moves doctor through underserved areas

Health Minister Leo Glavine first touted the rotating locum program more than a year ago as a tool to address doctor shortages in Nova Scotia. (CBC)

A long-promised locum program intended to bring doctors to underserved parts of Nova Scotia has been delayed again, this time with no new launch date.

The program, which would move doctors through areas such as Halifax, Digby, Shelburne, Tatamagouche, Pictou and Cape Breton during the course of a year, was to have been ready this month after first being promised a year ago.

But with a minimum of four or five doctors required and only two signed on, the plan remains on the shelf for the foreseeable future.

"We expected that the project would be able to start when we received a new crop of graduates that would be able to locum," provincial health authority spokesperson Wendy Walters said in an email.

"Unfortunately, while there is general agreement that this is a strong program in concept, it has been difficult to recruit for."

Missed deadlines for docs

By design, the program would see a doctor spend time working in three of four underserved areas during a year, providing service in communities with family doctor shortages and also serving as a recruiting tool. Politicians and health authority officials have said if a doctor found an area they liked and wanted to stay, it would be facilitated.

When Health Minister Leo Glavine first talked about the plan a year ago, he hoped the program would be ready by July 2016. That timeline was later extended to early 2017 and then to this month, after the health authority missed its chance last year to sign on medical residents.

Missing the deadline meant having to wait because residents typically sign year-long contracts and that is the demographic the program is targeting.

While health authority officials have said the program would be open to any interested doctor, it has felt the best opportunity is in signing newly available residents.

Upcoming meetings to examine locums

The Health Department declined multiple requests for an interview with Health Minister Leo Glavine, instead sending an emailed statement highlighting campaign promises from the Liberals that were included in the government's spring budget, which was not passed.

The statement said the government would meet with the health authority and doctors "in the coming weeks to discuss how this program will be changed and improved."

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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