Nova Scotia

Liberal leadership hopeful Randy Delorey pitches ideas to improve health care

Nova Scotia Liberal Party leadership candidate Randy Delorey released his first policy plans for the campaign on Wednesday.

Former health minister promises expanded virtual care and mental health services

Antigonish MLA and Liberal leadership candidate Randy Delorey released a health-care platform on Wednesday. (CBC)

Nova Scotia Liberal Party leadership candidate Randy Delorey has released his first policy plans of the campaign. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the former health minister is focusing on health care.

Delorey, the MLA for Antigonish, is promising expansions and enhancements of virtual health care and mental health services, along with steps intended to address backlogs in the system.

In an effort to enhance primary care, Delorey said that if he's elected party leader and becomes the next premier on Feb. 6, he's committed to launching an 811 video medicine pilot project to connect doctors and nurse practitioners with patients.

He'd also create safe, private spaces for people without direct access to the necessary technology so they can still participate in virtual care services. This would be achieved by partnering with libraries, public housing, community and seniors' centres and other organizations, according to a policy document the campaign released Wednesday.

In a telephone interview, Delorey said the province started expanding virtual care in the leadup to and during the pandemic and it's something that's become easier to do as issues with technology and privacy have been addressed. His policies are an expansion of those efforts, he said.

"Now that those barriers have come down, the opportunity presents itself to make sure we keep this momentum moving and make sure it's used in the most effective way possible to ensure Nova Scotians receive the care that they need."

Boosting mental health services

With regard to mental health services, Delorey said he would establish in-person and virtual walk-in clinics across the province to improve access, bring in additional supports for pregnant and postpartum women, and expand community-based and school options for young people.

An ongoing challenge to expand such services in the province and the rest of the country has been the availability of staff. Delorey said any changes that come must include the necessary clinicians to ensure the care is available.

"I see a path to bringing some non-face-to-face supports to the fore relatively quickly," he said.

"The physical infrastructure will be the easy [part], I think it will be the staffing that will be the challenge, but I do believe that within the health-care community and the mental health community they'll see the value of this and we'll see people working to step up and support this initiative."

Addressing COVID-related backlogs

When the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic hit Nova Scotia, all but the most urgent health-care services were put on hold to preserve hospital capacity to deal with the virus. Although such a spike never arrived, health-care staff have since been trying to cut into the backlog created by those service deferrals.

Delorey said in an effort to address that backlog and prevent any more during the pandemic, he'd look at ways to deliver "publicly funded, non-invasive health services outside of the hospital environment."

Such a step happened during the fall for some eye surgeries and Delorey said there are clinics and offices that either have the capacity now or could build it to do more work outside the hospital setting, which would open up operating room time for more invasive procedures.

He'd also create a team "dedicated to monitoring capacity and deploying resources for emergency rooms across the province to maximize operating hours," an idea Delorey said comes from conversations with doctors as they try to address emergency department closures throughout Nova Scotia.

Although Delorey's fellow leadership candidates, Labi Kousoulis and Iain Rankin, have been routinely releasing policy plans on a variety of subjects since the campaign launched in October, Delorey and people working on his team have said they would wait to do the same until after a series of public consultations.

Wednesday's announcement comes following in-person and virtual meetings with the general public, party members and health-care professionals.