Nurse practitioners touted as answer to ER closures
Emergency rooms closed due to N.S. doctor shortage could stay open under nurse practitioners: union
The Nova Scotia Nurses' Union is calling on the province to hire more nurse practitioners to help keep emergency rooms open, particularly in Cape Breton where ER closures have become acute.
When an ER closes temporarily due to a lack of doctors, nurses are reassigned to another unit or another hospital, said union president Janet Hazelton.
In Cape Breton, nurses are often sent to the regional hospital in Sydney.
"It's more frequent in Cape Breton, for sure ... and that's because of the proximity to a regional centre," said Hazelton.
"Where if the centre in Musquodoboit is not open today, it's not that easy to get those nurses to go 100 kilometres to the nearest facility, so it doesn't happen to them as often as it does in Cape Breton."
Hazelton said it's a practice that can be frustrating for nurses, who must work in a less familiar setting, as well as for patients. Having nurse practitioners on hand could prevent those ER closures, she said.
The union president plans to meet Friday with the Nova Scotia Health Authority to discuss using nurse practitioners to keep Cape Breton emergency rooms open amid a severe doctor shortage with no relief in sight.
"They would be able to assess, treat and release the majority of people ... and those that can't, would be sent by ambulance to the Cape Breton regional," she said.
Health Minister Randy Delorey said the Liberal government supports the use of nurse practitioners, but he wouldn't say whether they would be used to keep ERs open.
He said it's up to the health authority to decide that.
"I would defer to the recommendations that would come from the operational arm as to what the right complement and configuration of staff in the actual emergency department is," Delorey said.