Nova Scotia

Progress on surgical backlog limited by staff availability, says N.S. health authority CEO

The head of the Nova Scotia health authority says a plan is in the works to cut into the backlog of 27,000 people awaiting surgeries, but Karen Oldfield says that plan is limited by available staff.

Deputy health minister says plan for health-care improvements nearing completion

Deputy health minister Jeannine Legasse, left, and Nova Scotia Health interim CEO Karen Oldfield appeared before the legislature's public accounts committee on Wednesday. (CBC)

The head of the Nova Scotia health authority says a plan is in the works to cut into the backlog of 27,000 people awaiting surgeries, but Karen Oldfield says that plan is limited by available staff.

On Wednesday, Oldfield told the Nova Scotia Legislature's standing committee on public accounts that the system is nearing a 100 per cent return to surgical services after the pandemic forced the reduction of procedures and consultations in recent months.

But before meaningful progress can happen with the wait-list, Oldfield said the system must overcome the ongoing strains it faces from COVID-19. As of Tuesday, 460 health-care workers were off the job because of a positive COVID-19 test, because they're a close contact of a positive case or because they're awaiting a test result, Oldfield told reporters at Province House.

"That's a significant number of health-care workers still out of the system. They are coming back, it's starting to turn the corner, but until we have our full complements or close to it it's going to be hard to really cut into the backlog."

Oldfield said she's asked staff to provide an inventory of all options available that could help increase the number of procedures to cut into a backlog that's included at least about 22,000 people for the last five years.

Plan for system improvements nearly ready

Jeannine Legassé, the deputy health minister, also confirmed Wednesday that a multi-year plan Premier Tim Houston promised would outline steps to improve the overall health-care system is nearing completion.

"We're just checking back with a few stakeholders on some of the things that we heard from them and then we hope it to be released in the very near future," she said.

Houston has said the plan would be ready by the end of the month, although Legasse and Oldfield would not confirm whether March 31 will be the release date.

Liberal health critic Patricia Arab said the premier should make good on that timeline.

"The sooner the better," she said.

Arab noted that the lists of people in need of a family doctor and awaiting surgery have both increased in recent months. She said it's important for the government to be able to show the public how they'll turn the tide.

NDP health critic Susan Leblanc said she's hoping any plans related to system improvements will include having health-care professionals working to their full scope of practice, a pay increase to help attract and retain more nurses, and better communication with patients awaiting procedures and consultations.

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