Nova Scotia

Nurse practitioners touted as answer to ER closures

The Nova Scotia Nurses' Union is calling on the province to hire more nurse practitioners to keep emergency rooms open, especially in Cape Breton where ER closures are increasing due to a doctor shortage.

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 nurse practitioners to keep emergency rooms open in New Waterford, Glace Bay and North Sydney. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

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."

Union president Janet Hazelton says nurses are expected to be reassigned when an ER closes temporarily. She says it happens more frequently in Cape Breton than in other parts of the province.

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 says it's up to the Nova Scotia Health Authority to decide if it wants to use nurse practitioners to keep ERs open. (Paul Poirier/CBC)

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.

About the Author

Tom Ayers


Tom Ayers has been a reporter and editor for more than 30 years. He has spent the last 15 years covering Cape Breton and Nova Scotia stories. You can reach him at


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