Nova Scotia

Private clinic says it's filling gap in health care, but doctors' group worried

A new health clinic in Halifax is offering the services of a nurse practitioner and some therapists, such as an osteopath and chiropractor, as a way of speeding up waits for non-emergency medical care.

Unified Health clinic has a nurse practitioner and other therapists on-site but patients must pay

Unified Health Community Triage Centre is a fee-for-service health clinic located on Joseph Howe Drive in Halifax. (Unified Health Community Triage Centre photo)

A new private health clinic in Halifax offering out-of-pocket treatment for non-emergency care is proof of a troubled public health-care system, says the province's medical association.

Doctors Nova Scotia, which represents more than 3,500 physicians, said the primary care services offered at the Unified Health Community Triage Centre should be delivered under the public system.

"This clinic is a symptom that the public system must be fixed so that Nova Scotians have better access to primary care services," said Kevin Chapman, the organization's director of partnerships and finance.

He said a group of physicians from around the province will meet Saturday and the new clinic is one of the items for discussion on its agenda.

The clinic, which opened Aug. 1 on Joseph Howe Drive, offers the services of a nurse practitioner and some therapists, such as an osteopath and chiropractor, but does not have a medical doctor on-site.

It launched as a pilot project with the goal of speeding up waits for non-emergency medical care and easing the strain on crowded ERs.

"We call it a community triage centre. The purpose is to kind of relieve emergency services of the non-emergency cases," said Alan Attwater, president of Unified Health.

On its website, Unified Health says its model "alleviates the bottleneck of patients in emergency rooms and hospitals by directing them to the right practitioners for their specific needs."

The clinic's services are not covered under the province's public health insurance.

Unified Health president Alan Attwater says the clinic can help patients with non-emergency ailments. (Unified Health Community Triage Centre photo)

There is a $35 charge for a 15-minute appointment with a nurse practitioner. Other services, such as massage therapy, mental-health counselling, chiropractor and osteopathy, are separate charges, either paid for by the patient or private health insurance.

"You can do walk-ins or you can do appointments with continuing care, with a record of your health as it progresses," Attwater said.

"We are also looking at setting up a facility that is more like a traditional doctor's office with MDs and nurse practitioners, and some lab services on site."

He said having nurse practitioners who can write prescriptions and supply non-emergency care can help address the province's doctor shortage. He hopes to see these types of clinics in communities where it has been difficult to attract doctors.

According to the College of Registered Nurses of Nova Scotia, a nurse practitioner in the province can prescribe any medication with the exception of cannabis as well as certain anabolic steroids that are limited under the Federal Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

It isn't illegal for nurse practitioners in Nova Scotia to charge a fee for services provided to a client, the college said in an email to CBC News. They are not permitted to bill to MSI since "this is a physician-only payment model."

The centre does not receive any funding from the provincial government, a spokesperson from the Nova Scotia Department of Health and Wellness said.

Read more articles from CBC Nova Scotia


Susan Bradley is a journalist in Halifax.