Atlantic premiers announce physicians registry to help doctors move around the region

CHARLOTTETOWN — Canada's Atlantic premiers announced Monday the creation of a physicians and surgeons registry to make it easier for doctors to work in provinces other than where they already have a medical licence.

P.E.I. Premier Dennis King made the announcement at a meeting in Charlottetown, attended by all four of the Atlantic region's premiers.

King said the goal is to "improve mobility within the region and cut down on the unnecessary red tape and administrative burdens for physicians who want to work within the region in any of our health-care systems."

He said the Atlantic Physician Register should be in operation by May 1.

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey said there's nothing preventing doctors from working outside their home province, but the process of getting permission from a provincial college of physicians and surgeons can be tough.

Furey, an orthopedic trauma surgeon, said the registry will eliminate paperwork for doctors on the move.

"For me, to come and work in P.E.I. or New Brunswick or Nova Scotia, it's quite onerous," he told a news conference after the meeting. "It can be a significant deterrent for a practising physician to either take a locum piece of work or to split their practice."

Under the new system, doctors will be able to opt in to the registry when they renew their provincial licence each year. At that time they will be given what is essentially an Atlantic licence.

"(Doctors) who would like to move around in the summertime — P.E.I. is a beautiful place — and they want to spend a couple of weeks with their family, they could do that," Furey said.

"From the provinces' perspective, it will open up the pool of people who are available for certain gaps in the system."

Furey said new doctors are looking for options when it comes to work experience.

"Having this mobility and eliminating the barriers in Atlantic Canada, and ultimately the nation, will be something that is very attractive," he said. "It's not going to fix the problem (of staffing shortages), but it gives us more Band-Aids to (deal with) some immediate issues."

He said the governing bodies for doctors and surgeons in each Atlantic province support the move.

Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston said the new system won't have an impact on the ongoing competition between provinces recruiting doctors.

"If the physician wants to move to another province they can," he said. "What we're talking about is making it easier for them to pitch in where necessary in other provinces .... It's a first step in a bigger discussion that has to happen."

On other fronts, the premiers issued a statement saying they plan to talk to the federal government about a recent outage of the 911 system across the Maritimes.

The emergency telecommunication system was off-line for more than two hours on Jan. 31 after a main system switch failed and a backup system broke down.

"Premiers agreed to raise this critical public safety infrastructure outage issue, including telecommunications reliability and preparedness, with the federal government," the statement said.

Bell Aliant, which oversees the system across Atlantic Canada, has said the outage was caused by a software update introduced in preparation for 10-digit dialing for New Brunswick. The company said this type of outage would not happen again.

Other topics discussed at the meeting were Ottawa's recent increase to health-care funding, affordable housing, homelessness and regional air travel

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 20, 2023.

— By Michael MacDonald in Halifax.

The Canadian Press