Nova Scotia

Dr. Charles Hamm, obstetrician, leaving because of 'insurmountable' stress

A Kentville specialist is packing his bags because he says Nova Scotia's government has created conditions that fail obstetricians and gynecologists, and their patients.

Higher fees, lower pay, and a lack of resources top the long lists of issues faced every day, says Hamm

Dr. Charles Hamm is leaving one of the largest obstetrical practices in the province. He has about 5,000 patients. (CBC)

A Kentville specialist is packing his bags after nine years of practice because he says Nova Scotia's government has created conditions that fail obstetricians and gynaecologists, along with their patients.

"I'm leaving because for me, it's too stressful to practice here," said Dr. Charles Hamm, who has decided to open a new practice in London, Ont.

"I wish I didn't have to leave, but the stress of being here and working on the periphery is almost insurmountable."

Hamm, who was born in Cape Breton, isn't mincing words about his departure, saying he has raised concerns with the provincial government repeatedly, but conditions have only become worse.

"I feel like I'm beating my head against the wall in Nova Scotia. That wall, at the moment, is a Liberal wall."

He says the final straw was when the provincial government refused in April to cover drastic increases in fees that obstetricians pay for malpractice insurance from the Canadian Medical Protective Association (CMPA) in April.

"When that hit, I had people calling me and telling me they can't pay their rent," said Hamm. "The leaders of this province need to shake their heads, get their act in gear and pay attention to how we're treating women and children in the province."

Tip of the iceberg

Dr. Hamm's departure comes as no surprise to Dr. Arthur Zilbert, an assistant professor in Dalhousie University's department of obstetrics and gynaecology.

He says already they're seeing the chilling effect of the lack of specialists.

This week, Zilbert says a woman arrived at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax in full labour and delivered 15 minutes later. The woman was from Antigonish, where there were no obstetricians to cover on-call shifts for days this month.

Zilbert says the woman was so concerned about the situation in her home town that she booked three nights in a hotel in Halifax simply so she could be close to the IWK if she went into labour.

He says the patient was fortunate there were no issues with the delivery, because she was in an unfamiliar setting with unfamiliar staff.

"That to me is trauma. That to me is emotional horror, that that poor woman experienced."

He says more of those situations will happen unless the province prioritizes women's health care.

"At the end of March, this wasn't a problem and it is a problem now. It simply rests on their shoulders and they refuse to take responsibility and they should."

Struggling in various ways

A representative of the provincial health authority said maternal and child health care is at the top of its list as the new, single board establishes its priorities. 

There are currently 40 ob-gyns practising in Nova Scotia, but Hamm says he's not the only one planning his departure.

He says others are considering retiring earlier than planned because of the insurance fees.

"They're under duress."

Ob-gyns in Nova Scotia are the second lowest paid in Canada, next to Quebec. So Hamm says the boost in fees is just another reason why young doctors won't choose to practice in the province.

Dr. Charles Hamm thought conditions for obstetricians would improve under the Liberal government, but he says they're now worse. (CBC)

Hamm says he also struggles to book time in the operating room and currently has a waiting list of 200 patients who need operations.

"I have people that I could fix if I could just get into an operating room, but I just don't have that time. I have the personal time, but the resources aren't there for me. Our equipment in the operating room, we can't get what we need."

He plans on completing his work in Nova Scotia by September.

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