Nova Scotia

N.S. surgical wait-list grows as NDP calls for more resources

With the Nova Scotia government just weeks away from delivering a budget that promises to have millions of dollars in new health-care spending, the NDP is drawing attention to the provincial wait-list for surgical procedures and suggesting ways to cut into the backlog.

Atlantic premiers discuss ways provinces could help each other

As of February, nearly 27,200 people were waiting for a surgical procedure from Nova Scotia Health, according to an access-to-information request. (Bright097/Shutterstock)

With the Nova Scotia government just weeks away from delivering a budget that promises to have millions of dollars in new health-care spending, the NDP is drawing attention to the provincial wait-list for surgical procedures and suggesting ways to cut into the backlog.

On Monday, the party released the results of an access-to-information request showing that as of February, nearly 27,200 people were waiting for a surgical procedure from Nova Scotia Health. The party requested the numbers dating back to 2017.

NDP health critic Susan Leblanc said the numbers represent people waiting for action to improve their health.

"That means people are in pain, they are waiting to get on with their lives, essentially," she said in an interview.

Systemic problems require changes to the system

While the wait-list increased by 3,200 people since December, coinciding with the most recent wave of COVID-19, the list has always had at least 21,800 people since January 2017, according to the information the NDP received.

For Leblanc, that means the province is dealing with a systemic problem that requires long-term solutions. She said substantive change will require spending more money — something the Tories promised in the last election they would do — and boosting human resources.

The NDP wants to see all health-care professionals working to full scope of practice, more physician assistants licensed and working in Nova Scotia and more nurses hired along with an increase in their pay. The Tory government has already pledged to hire every nursing school graduate it can for the next five years.

"There may not be short-term results, but if we start making the changes now, then once we're out of the pandemic — which, hopefully will be soon — then we'll be on the road to, you know, lessening these wait times," said Leblanc.

Ongoing effects of COVID-19

Although the majority of public health restrictions related to COVID-19 were lifted on Monday, the disease is still having a major effect on the province and its health-care system.

Nova Scotia Health reported 412 people off work Monday because they've tested positive for COVID-19, are awaiting a test result or must self-isolate because they're a close contact. That's an increase of 111 people from last week's report. There were 136 people off work for similar reasons at the IWK Health Centre as of Monday.

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang and other officials have said they expect cases in the province to increase in the coming weeks with the removal of public health restrictions and as people begin gathering in larger numbers without the requirement to show proof of vaccination or wear a mask.

But the problem of already-burdened health-care systems being further challenged by COVID-19 is not unique to Nova Scotia. The Canadian Institute for Health Information reported in December that half a million fewer surgeries had been performed in Canada since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, compared with previous years. It also noted longer-than-recommended waits for people who had surgery during the pandemic's first wave.

Atlantic premiers consider collaboration

The subject of health-care resources was on the minds of the four Atlantic Canada premiers as they came together on the weekend for meetings.

While no one is brimming with additional capacity, New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs said he and his colleagues are looking at scenarios where a province that does have additional capacity for a certain procedure could receive patients from neighbouring provinces — at a cost to the patient's home province — to help ease access problems.

Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston said each of the four provinces would be assessing the specialty services each provides to see what could be possible.

P.E.I. Premier Dennis King, whose province already relies on New Brunswick and Nova Scotia for some services the Island is simply too small to provide, said it's a question of maximizing resources within Atlantic Canada in a way that benefits the most people. It also means thinking about options for the long-term and building on the collaboration that developed among the provinces during the pandemic.

"We know there's no simple solution here," King told reporters in Halifax on Monday at the conclusion of meetings with his three colleagues.

"We're not going to start this tomorrow and we haven't held ourselves to that timeframe. But the responsibility we have to our citizens — to the patients that we're trying to serve each and every day — [is] how can we best utilize all the resources we have and find those efficiencies."

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