Nova Scotia

N.S. emergency departments see 60% jump in closure hours

Emergency department closures in Nova Scotia rose sharply in the latest fiscal year, with Glace Bay being the hardest hit.

ER at Glace Bay Health Care Facility was open just 33 per cent of the 2018-19 fiscal year

The Fishermen Memorial Hospital's emergency department in Lunenburg, N.S., was closed for 3,542 hours in the 2018-19 fiscal year. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

The number of hours emergency departments in Nova Scotia were closed jumped 60 per cent during the latest fiscal year, says a report issued Thursday by the province.

The Annual Accountability Report on Emergency Departments covers the period between April 2018 and March 2019, and shows emergency departments were closed for almost 49,000 hours, which is 18,000 hours more than the year before, with the most significant increases being in Cape Breton.

The Glace Bay Health Care Facility was open just 33 per cent of the year.

The Eastern Shore Memorial Hospital in Sheet Harbour saw its emergency department open just 58 per cent of the time.

Health minister's reaction

Health Minister Randy Delorey downplayed the numbers, pointing out the Liberal government has made several announcements since the end of the time period covered in the report, including an increase in pay for emergency department doctors that "should definitely have a positive impact."

"We look forward to seeing physicians step up to fill these shifts across the province in our communities based upon the investments we've committed to in the new agreement," he said.

Delorey also pointed to long-term recruitment efforts, such as immigration initiatives for doctors from the United Kingdom and an increase in the number of seats at Dalhousie University's medical school that should eventually fill gaps. 

"We're responding and looking to improve the situation in our emergency departments, just like we are focused on improving other areas in our health-care system," he said.

Opposition leaders slam government

But the province's opposition leaders weren't so diplomatic. They swiftly sent out news releases hammering the Liberal efforts on the health file.

"The government is putting people's health at risk," said Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Houston. "Too many Nova Scotians do not have access to primary care, and coupling that with skyrocketing ER closures is a dangerous situation.

NDP Leader Gary Burrill said the Liberals aren't doing enough to address the closures.

"Stephen McNeil has never admitted we're in a health-care crisis," he said. "These numbers show we have a very serious problem in our emergency rooms, yet the Liberals continue to pretend everything is fine."

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