Nova Scotia

Family doctors in Nova Scotia concerned about staffing 'wrecking ball'

State of family doctors in Nova Scotia has some doctors warning of a staffing crisis headed for the province.

Doctors who want to retire and residents about to graduate especially frustrated with staffing

It's expected that about 1,100 of the 2,500 physicians in the province will retire in the next 10 years. (iStock)

Some doctors are speaking out over the state of family doctor practices in Nova Scotia.

Last week, Sydney River-Mira-Louisbourg MLA Alfie MacLeod reignited the debate over the availability of family doctors when he was thrown out of the legislature.

MacLeod was asking Health Minister Leo Glavine for current information about the doctor-patient ratio in Cape Breton.

Glavine said 10 new doctors are coming to Cape Breton this year — but MacLeod said he wasn't satisfied with that information.

It's expected that about 1,100 of the 2,500 physicians in the province will retire in the next 10 years.

Province may be heading toward a staffing crisis

Dr. Mark Fletcher, medical director of seven Family Focus walk-in clinics in the Halifax region, told CBC's Information Morning on Tuesday it's going to be difficult to attract and retain staff under the merged Nova Scotia Health Authority's restrictions on walk-in clinics.

Fletcher said he was told last fall people could work in a walk-in clinic, provided they had a primary family practice role, too — but, he said that's changed.

He said the province and the NSHA want to create collaborative care clinics with many physicians, and no one would be without a family doctor. The problem being, that graduating doctors are not getting credentials to work in walk-ins, forcing them to consider leaving the province for work.

Fletcher said the plan is flawed. 

"Simply by cutting off supply physicians to the walk-in is not decreasing the public demand for that service because the access is still very poor," he said. 

"The reality is as the province restricts physicians' ability to have that variety in their practice — which a lot of the new residents want and are encouraged to do through the residency program — is a lot of them are just getting frustrated and looking elsewhere."

Fletcher said his staffing is in a crisis. He's not able to cover all shifts and he worries some clinics may have to close. 

'Wrecking ball' heading toward family doctors

Dr. Ajantha Jayabarathan, a family doctor in Halifax, is also speaking out against the NSHA, saying it is not helping her and her colleagues deal with some of the pressing issues they face.

Initially, Jayabarathan said she and other colleagues were excited about the collaborative plan. However the implementation of that plan is flawed and she said the health authority needs to meet with doctors as soon as possible to address the "wrecking ball" heading toward family practices.

She said people who want to retire and residents about to graduate are especially frustrated. 

"Most of them who are about to retire are no longer able to provide their patients with any assurance that they're going to be replaced, so they know that their patients are going to be orphaned within a matter of months," said Jayabarathan.

She said the new health authority has cancelled jobs offered to the graduates in walk-in clinics. 

People 'desperate' to find a family doctor

Jayabarathan also said  people who want to retire cannot tell patients who will be the next family physicians, because the authority will determine if a new position will be filled.

"We get hundreds of calls a day from desperate people looking for a family doctor and every one of those, it's breaking our hearts to turn them away but we are full to capacity." 

Jayabarathan told CBC's Information Morning on Monday that the new policy has created, "quite a mess and mayhem. And I know that a lot of my colleagues are quite distraught."

She's calling on the NSHA to meet with doctors, with someone from the media moderating the session.

With files from CBC's Information Morning