Nova Scotia

Health minister's mandate letter outlines N.S. government's ambitious plans for change

With emergency departments experiencing crushing pressure, staffing levels stretched to breaking points and surgeries needing to be postponed to create more bed space for inpatients, Michelle Thompson said during an interview Friday that it’s clear where she must begin her work.

Michelle Thompson says the first focus will be addressing immediate pressures

Health Minister Michelle Thompson speaks during a COVID-19 briefing earlier this month. (Communications Nova Scotia)

Health Minister Michelle Thompson says that of the long list of items included in her ministerial mandate letter, addressing immediate pressures on the health-care system is where she will focus first.

The mandate letters for Thompson and her cabinet colleagues were released on Thursday.

They include what's expected of them by Premier Tim Houston  and each is tasked with putting together a timeline for the work within the next 90 days.

With emergency departments experiencing crushing pressure, staffing levels across the system stretched to the breaking point and surgeries needing to be postponed to create more bed space for inpatients, Thompson said it's clear where she must begin her work.

"Looking at access is very, very important and ensuring that there is a better response, or a stronger response when we have surges in the system," she said in an interview on Friday.

Listening tour starts Monday

Thompson and Houston begin their four-day tour of the province on Monday to hear directly from health-care workers about their concerns and suggestions. Each of them will lead a team of three people, so they can cover more ground.

Thompson, a former registered nurse and long-term care administrator, said she wants to hear the unvarnished truth from the people working on the front lines of health care.

As the Tories work on their plan to improve a system they have called broken, the minister said she wants the plan "built on the voices of the people doing the work."

"It's important that they tell their stories and also bring forward their solutions," she said.

"They see the day-to-day inefficiencies, they see the things that maybe are blocks for them, but they also know where they're strong. And so for us to get that feedback and be able to move forward, I think will be important."

Other items in Thompson's mandate letter span a broad spectrum of the health-care system.

Addressing pay, technology, structure

She's to look at expanding access to virtual care so it can include primary consultations with some specialists, including physiotherapists and nurse practitioners.

She's also to level the compensation playing field between family doctors and hospitalists — doctors who provide care for patients in the hospital. It's a long-time bone of contention for family doctors who operate offices and deal with the overhead that hospitalists do not.

The minister is also tasked with establishing a new organizational structure for health care in Nova Scotia. Details of this will take time to work out, but Thompson said part of it will be looking at the relationship between her department and the health authority, although that doesn't mean the government is looking to make reductions, she said.

"Sometimes there's good practices in one area and good practices in another and we're able to form a hybrid."

She'll also oversee the scope and delivery of the one-patient-one-record program. That program is intended to make the system more integrated but has yet to get off the ground.

Seeking buy-in

Thompson said she and Houston are being realistic about how long it will take to make meaningful changes.

"We want to be intentional about the changes we make and not make change for the sake of change."

For now, she's looking forward to next week's tour, which Thompson said she thinks will be a key part of getting buy-in from health-care workers for the government's plan as they take shape.


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