“We continue our efforts to recruit in a competitive landscape to increase doctor attachment in primary care,” the premier said July 5 when asked what will be done to tackle the growing waitlist. Rankin noted that NS doctors are now among the highest paid in Atlantic Canada, which he expects will improve recruitment efforts.
“We’re going to try and recruit more now that our borders open up,” he said, “but it is something all provinces are grappling with right now.”
On May 17, health minister Zach Churchill announced a virtual care program targeting unattached patients in the western and northern parts of the province, which will offer primary care online to about 21,000 Nova Scotians on the waitlist. As of June 15 the department reported that about 3,000 unattached patients were connected through this program. By the end of June another 8,000 people were offered virtual care, for 11,000 people total. Despite this effort and ongoing doctor recruitment, the list grew throughout May (up 1.3 percent) and again in June (up 2,600 people, or four percent).
Matching Nova Scotians with a family physician is an uphill battle, as new residents join the province and waitlist, and long-serving doctors with patient lists in the thousands retire. The department of health says new Nova Scotians make up 30 percent of the doc waitlist.
In 2020, the province recruited 111 doctors, 23 of them from outside of Canada. While newly immigrated doctors and med school grads are consistently licensed to join the province’s health care system, it will take a significant number of new docs to replace retiring ones—some of whom treat upwards of 4,000 people, compared to 500-to-700 patients new doctors are expected to take on when they get started. The health authority expects a new doctor working full-time to have 1,350 patients by the end of their second year practicing.
Doc waitlist breakdown
Nova Scotia’s Northern and Western health zones are dealing with the highest family physician waitlists. In the Cumberland, Colchester and Pictou communities, 13.4 percent of the population—19,770 people—registered as needing a family doctor. In the South Shore, Annapolis Valley and surrounding area there are 25,185 people, or 13 percent of the population, in need of a physician.
In the Central zone, which covers Halifax, Eastern Shore, Musquodoboit and West Hants, 15,270 people are looking for family doctors, which makes up 3.6 percent of the region’s population. In Cape Breton, Guysborough and Antigonish 3.5 percent of the population is on the doc waitlist—that’s another 8,840 people.
While Halifax’s waitlist is proportionally small compared to the northern and western parts of the province, it’s growing at a faster rate than any other region. The Central zone waitlist jumped by nine percent between June and July, the biggest spike among the four regions.