David Coon – Fredericton South
Calls to my Constituency Office from constituents who have no family physician or are about to lose one, have ramped up in recent months. Fredericton has lost at least four of its physicians in the last year according to recent articles. Currently, there are 130 vacancies for doctors in New Brunswick. Even as new doctors and nurse practitioners are being hired, the patient wait list grows ever longer as we lose more doctors than we gain.
The crisis is growing and people are getting desperate. Some of those who have reached out to me have been on the waitlist for years. Some have serious health problems or are elderly. All need to be followed by a family physician or nurse practitioner who knows their health history. These are people who should be prioritized, yet for years the list has not moved.
Since first being elected in 2014, I have championed a greater role in our health care system for other primary care providers such as nurse practitioners and midwives. A nurse practitioners’ clinic has recently opened on Regent Street. It will take 6,000 patients from the Fredericton area off the list. Unfortunately, it seems to be bringing people onboard at a snail’s pace. There needs to be a greater sense of urgency to match the crisis.
As an added feature, the clinic will take people who do not need emergency care from the ER at the Chalmers.
The system for recruiting doctors is so ineffective, the Minister of Health, Dorothy Shephard, declared in April that her department would be taking over doctor recruitment from Horizon Health and Vitalité. Minister Shephard noted that members of the graduating class from New Brunswick’s medical school program had not even been contacted by the health authorities.
The long-awaited health reform plan was presented on November 17, but disappointingly it didn’t offer much in the way of long-term reforms. You can see this in its title, Stabilizing Health Care: An Urgent Call to Action. The report acknowledges the urgency of the situation, but only lays out a stop-gap plan to stabilize a healthcare system that is teetering on its last legs.
Part of the plan is to create a provincial, virtual, walk-in clinic where patients can access virtual or in-person care through a network of providers, while they wait for a permanent healthcare provider. Management will be privatized and contracted out to Medavie, with hints that the private management of public health care is to expand even further in the near future. This is concerning, particularly given the concerns by the Auditor General of Medavie’s performance managing Extra Mural nursing and Ambulance services, let alone the disturbing move towards privatization of healthcare. Other parts of the plan lay out actions to shorten wait times for surgeries, improve access to mental health and addiction services, and keep seniors in their own homes longer.
In the short-term, anyone on the waiting list for a doctor should now gain access to primary health care without relying on the ER, but it is not the same as having consistent care from your own family care team.