Almost 14% of N.S. population is now on registry seeking a family doctor

The number of people in Nova Scotia looking for a family practice is now equal to almost 14 per cent of the province's population. (funnyangel/Shutterstock - image credit)
The number of people in Nova Scotia looking for a family practice is now equal to almost 14 per cent of the province's population. (funnyangel/Shutterstock - image credit)

Almost 14 per cent of Nova Scotia's population is now looking for a family doctor or nurse practitioner.

The latest figures for the need-a-family-practice registry show 137,587 people on the list, up about 4,000 from last month, setting a new all-time high.

According to data released Friday by Nova Scotia Health, 2,469 people were removed from the list since last month, however that was offset by 6,461 people who added their names to the registry.

Last week it was learned that 4,100 people in the Halifax area will soon lose their family doctor after the four physicians at the South End Family Practice announced they will close the office at the end of August.

The central zone, which includes Halifax, saw the largest increase in people joining the registry in the last month. The number of people looking for a doctor or nurse practitioner there is up 4.7 per cent.

Newcomers seek doctors

Information included with the updated numbers shows that the biggest reason cited for people joining the list since last month is that they're new to the area, a group that accounted for 35.6 per cent of people.

The next most-cited reason, which accounted for 25.4 per cent of people who joined the registry, is that doctors have moved or are closing their practice. The other reasons cited include providers planning to retire (15.9 per cent), providers who have retired (15.0 per cent) and not requiring a family practice until now (8.1 per cent).

This list, which has grown substantially since November, is an example of the challenge facing a provincial government elected primarily on a promise to fix the health-care system.

Robert Short/CBC
Robert Short/CBC

During major funding announcements this week, Premier Tim Houston and members of his cabinet doubled down on their campaign pledge to fix health care.

The Tories announced a total of $121 million spread among Cape Breton University, Saint Mary's University and St. Francis Xavier University for a new medical school, health data analytics programs and a health-focused research institute, respectively.

Speaking at the announcement in Antigonish on Thursday, Houston said his government is focused on tackling issues that were "years and years in the making," an effort he said would require "medium term" and "longer term" actions such as the ones announced this week at the three universities.

Last month, the government also said it has signed a contract for the development and implementation of a one patient one record electronic medical record system.

Such announcements mean the province is "inching just a little bit closer" to a better system, said Houston.

"I know it's easy to get impatient, but I just ask that you please trust the people who are literally bending over backwards, that are burning themselves out on the front lines of health care to fix the foundation that we will then build up a system upon that will serve the public needs for well into the future."

List was late being released

Houston repeated on Thursday what he's said multiple times since forming government: "when it comes to health care, we are going to spend whatever it takes to get it fixed."

"We're moving the needle, for sure," he told the crowd in Antigonish.

"We are going to change the future of health care in this province. We are going to change the lives of Nova Scotians."

The need-a-family-practice registry is supposed to be published within five business days of the beginning of each month, meaning it should have been online by last Tuesday. A spokesperson for Nova Scotia Health said the delay was related to ensuring the public had context around the numbers and information about how and where they can get care through options such as mobile primary care clinics and VirtualCareNS.

Numbers from the health authority show that during February, there was a weekday average of 250 visits through the virtual care platform.