Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia Health Authority addresses Cape Breton doctor shortages

Almost a thousand people who attended a public meeting in Cape Breton on Sunday are calling on the province to launch an inquiry into why doctors are leaving the island.

Around 900 people attended Saturday's meeting at Joan Harriss Cruise Pavilion in Sydney

It was standing room only at a public meeting about doctors in Sydney on Sunday. The meeting was held at the Joan Harriss Cruise Pavilion. (Joan Weeks/CBC)

Almost a thousand people who attended a public meeting in Cape Breton on Sunday called on the province to launch an inquiry into why doctors are leaving the island. 

Anaesthesiologist Dr. Craig Stone put forward the motion. He told the audience, "I go to work with dread and I come home totally worn out. And it's got nothing to do with patient care."

Retaining doctors

Ophthalmologist Dr. Saraswati Sivakumar said finding doctors to hire can be easy. 

"But retaining the doctors can be really a difficult issue," she said.

Sivakumar, who has about 9000 patients, said she spoke with some doctors who left and "mentioned that it is the management" that's the root of the problem.

She suggested doctors be asked to complete an anonymous survey of why they are leaving the community.

'We don't have a local authority anymore'

A number of speakers felt the decision to disband local health authorities has contributed to a health care crisis. In 2015, nine health districts were rolled into one provincial health authority based in Halifax.

Geriatric psychiatrist Dr. Jeanne Ferguson said a new clinic for people without doctors is an example of how that system is not working. The clinic started with nine doctors and now has two.

"The reason it's not adequately resourced is we don't have local authority anymore," she said. "All of our decisions are made in Halifax."

Dr. Jeanne Ferguson, a geriatric psychiatrist, spoke about people who come to her with no doctor and cry in her office. (Joan Weeks/CBC)

Knowing the community

John Malcom headed the former Cape Breton District Health Authority. He said their motto was, "We can do more for Cape Bretoners in Cape Breton."

"I learned you don't know the community until you live in the community," Malcom said. 

Last week, the Nova Scotia Health Authority announced the creation of a new collaborative clinic that can take 1,000 patients.

"Of the 10,000 people who do not have a family doctor, I would like you to answer me, how those people are going to be screened into that clinic?" asked one attendee. 

'We need physicians to graduate'

Dr. Patricia Menard, a senior staff member at the Nova Scotia Health Authority, said new clinics are established based on need.

"Right now we are looking at the needs in Glace Bay," she said. "We don't have 100 physicians in the province ready to go to work. We need physicians to graduate."

A number of the doctors at the meeting want to collaborate with the health authority to find more solutions. Dr. Stone said there should be more meetings discussing concerns about outgoing doctors.

"I want you to raise your concerns to members of your community and your elected officials," he told attendees. 


Joan Weeks


Joan Weeks has been a reporter with CBC in Sydney for over a decade. Many of her stories are investigative with a focus on government spending and accountability, as well as health and economic issues important to Cape Breton.