Nova Scotia

6 doctors consider moving to N.S. after minister's overseas recruiting trip

Immigration Minister Lena Diab's two-day recruiting trip to London and Dublin comes as Nova Scotia continues to grapple with a doctor shortage.

Despite new incentives for doctors, wait-list continues to grow

Lena Diab is Nova Scotia's immigration minister. She says this is the first time the province has taken to the international market to attract doctors. (Canadian Press)

Nova Scotia's immigration minister says during a two-day trip to London and Dublin she managed to convince six doctors to consider a move to Nova Scotia.

Lena Diab and her team spoke with more than 40 doctors during the recruiting trip last week, and the minister said Thursday that half a dozen will visit the province in June.

No one has made a firm commitment to set up a practice here, but Diab said the results are better than anticipated.

"I think this is more probably than what was expected, for sure," she said. "We are competing with international markets, whether it's for doctors or skilled people all over the world."

Under the province's new incentive plan, doctors receive a $150 signing bonus for every new patient they take on. (Goodluz/Shutterstock)

The trip comes as Nova Scotia has grappled with a doctor shortage. More Nova Scotians than ever are registered on the province's doctor waitlist, even after an incentive program launched last month to encourage family physicians to take on more patients.

The minister said this is the first time a "unified team" from Nova Scotia has ventured into the international market on a hunt for doctors.

"It's never been done before, by anybody," she said.

Any doctor headed to Nova Scotia for the site visits in June has already had their credentials approved by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Nova Scotia, the body that licenses doctors to practise in the province.

A delegation, including members of the Nova Scotia Health Authority, the Immigration Department and the College of Physicians and Surgeons, returned from their trip on Sunday.

Diab's department covered the cost of travel — about $26,500 — for both her team and members of the college.

Tim Houston is a PC MLA looking to take over leadership of the provincial party. (CBC)

Tory leadership contender Tim Houston said it's a failed investment. 

"The only way you can measure results is when Nova Scotians have access to health care. And they don't right now," Houston said.

"Until we start to see some results, and see a master plan as to where this goes in the long term, it's not money well spent. We're just going in circles."

New incentive for doctors

On Wednesday, Health Minister Randy Delorey invited reporters to hear an update on the success of a new incentive offered to family doctors to take on more patients.

The department is offering doctors $150 for every new patient they sign up. Since the incentive program started at the beginning of April, 882 Nova Scotians have found a family doctor.

"There are almost 900 patients who didn't previously have a family physician that are attached through this incentive program," said Delorey.

That may be true, but the actual numbers paint a less rosy picture.

According to statistics provided by the Nova Scotia Health Authority, on March 1 there were 44,158 Nova Scotians waiting on the registry to find a family doctor. By this week that number had increased by about 500.

"We know that there are lots of Nova Scotians still in need and we're going to continue the work to improve the situation," Delorey said.

Randy Delorey is Nova Scotia's health minister. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)
Under the terms of the incentive program, a doctor who accepts the $150 signing bonus must agree to keep that patient for at least a year. However, nothing prevents a doctor from reducing his or her patient list at any time. 

The province has also upped the amount of money it will pay a doctor for each office visit.

Delorey said he's happy with the number of physicians who've taken advantage of the program.

"There is almost 180 physicians that participated and saw value in this initiative in the first month," he said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Preston Mulligan has been a reporter in the Maritimes for more than 20 years. Along with his reporting gig, he also hosts CBC Radio's Sunday phone-in show, Maritime Connection.

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