Nova Scotia

Number of Nova Scotians on family doctor wait-list hits record high

The number of Nova Scotians waiting on the provincial registry for a family doctor has hit a record high. As of July 1, more than 69,000 Nova Scotians were on the wait-list.

Health minister says the list is growing because of immigration, retirements, smaller practices

Nova Scotia Health's Need a Family Practice registry was launched in November 2016 to track the number of Nova Scotians in need of a primary care provider. (David Donnelly/CBC)

The number of Nova Scotians waiting on the provincial registry for a family doctor has hit a record high.

As of July 1, more than 69,000 people were on the wait-list. Prior to the pandemic, the list had peaked at 59,000 in November 2018 before falling to 47,056 people or about 5.1 per cent of the population.

Over the last year, the list grew again, reaching 66,404 in June.

Health Minister Zach Churchill said Thursday a number of factors are causing the list to grow, including newcomers in need of a primary care provider.

"We have a bigger population now so a lot of people have moved to Nova Scotia," Churchill told reporters following a cabinet meeting.

"Thirty per cent of the people on the list have identified that they are new to the province or new to the community they are living in."

Changing practice

Churchill said doctor retirements and deaths have also increased the number of people on the registry. As well, new doctors are taking on fewer patients than their predecessors.

"They are being trained in med school to practise differently, and that is resulting in doctors giving a higher quality of care to a smaller amount of patients," he said.

"When we have a retirement or death with an older doctor who is taking 3,000 to 5,000 patients, the reality is that newer doctors coming into the system are taking a lot less than that."

The province had an incentive program that offered doctors $150 for each new patient they took on, but it ended in March 2020.

Churchill said the wait-list also grew as the result of a decision by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Nova Scotia to drastically cut a Pictou County doctor's patient load to 1,400 from 4,000 in February.

The college said on its website that Dr. Emmanuel Rivera didn't have the necessary credentials for full licensure in the province.

Churchill says Nova Scotia has more doctors per capita than any other province. (Robert Guertin/CBC)

Churchill said the issue isn't with doctor recruitment.

"We do very well with doctor recruitment in Nova Scotia, recruiting about an average of 130 a year," he said.

"We do have more doctors per capita than any other province in the country."

Churchill said the province is working to address the growing number of people without primary care by continuing with its recruitment and retention efforts, increasing access to nurse practitioners, and expanding the scope of practice for pharmacists.

He also pointed to VirtualCareNS, a health-care pilot project launched in May that allows people on the registry to access a primary care provider online while they wait.

Currently it is only available in some communities in the northern and western health zones.