Nova Scotia

Wait list for family doctors in Nova Scotia hits 33,216

About 12.5 per cent of names of patients on a wait list in Nova Scotia have been sent to family doctors. But it’s not clear how many people have actually been taken on.

Nova Scotia Health Authority recently sent 4,150 names to family physicians in the province

The Need A Family Practice wait list had 6,000 names when it launched in November. It is now up to 33,216. (Shutterstock)

The number of patients on the wait list for a family doctor in Nova Scotia has soared to 33,216, from 25,000 in March, according to figures released by the Nova Scotia Health Authority.

The authority hopes to whittle down that number by 12.5 per cent. That's the number of patients whose names it has sent to physicians in the province, spokesperson Kristen Lipscombe said in an email.

But it doesn't mean that all 4,150 people will be successful in getting a family doctor, she said. That data isn't available yet, she said.

"An enhancement is occurring to the Need a Family Practice registry to allow a better understanding of the number of people (from the lists of names provided) that family practices have been able to accept as patients. This data will be available in the coming month."

Ongoing doctor shortage

The health authority launched the Need a Family Practice registry last November in a bid to help deal with a shortage of family physicians in the province. About 6,000 names were placed on it then. By March, the list had 25,000 names.

People can call 811 or register online to be added. The idea is that they will eventually be contacted directly by a family practice on a first-come, first-serve basis as openings crop up in their area.

Doctors Nova Scotia president Manoj Vohra says the wait list is "a good place to start, knowing who needs a doctor right away," but it doesn't build confidence if names languish on it for a long time.

Vohra also worries that the shortage will get worse.

"We have an aging population, we have an aging medical profession," he said, adding elderly doctors often have to reduce their patient load.

1,000 doctors needed

Nancy MacCready-Williams, CEO of Doctors Nova Scotia, told the legislature's public accounts committee in April that 1,300 of Nova Scotia's 2,400 practising physicians are over the age of 50, and that 630 are over 60. She also said there were 118 doctor vacancies across the province.

Nancy MacCready-Williams, CEO for Doctors Nova Scotia, has said more than half of Nova Scotia’s 2,400 practising physicians are over the age of 50. (CBC)

MacCready-Williams said the Physician Resource Plan, developed by her group and the province in 2012, states that the province needs to recruit 1,000 doctors over the next decade.

Nova Scotians who do have a family physician also face lengthy wait times when referred to a specialist for treatment.

A national report released last fall by the Fraser Institute, a Canadian think tank based in Vancouver, found Nova Scotia patients wait an average of 35 weeks to see a specialist, the second longest of any province in Canada.

With files from The Canadian Press