Two of Nova Scotia's highest-ranking health-care officials were unable to provide a cost or timeline Wednesday for creating up to 80 collaborative care teams they said are vital to improving care in the province.
Deputy health minister Denise Perret and Janet Knox, president and CEO of the Nova Scotia Health Authority, appeared before the public accounts committee at Province House where they spoke at length about the need to transform the health-care system to provide better and timelier care.
In her opening statement, Perret told committee members the province needs to move from a "disjointed and fragmented" model to one that is "co-ordinated and integrated."
A key part of that transformation is convincing doctors to work collaboratively with colleagues, nurses, nurse practitioners and other health professionals.
Work underway but timeline unclear
Knox said the health authority is working to create 50 collaborative care teams provincewide. She estimated another 30 would be needed to give every family in Nova Scotia access to a family doctor or primary care practice.
Neither official would speculate on when those teams might be in place.
"Those are the things we're working out with government right now," Knox told reporters after being questioned for two hours by committee members.
"It will take us a couple of years to work with groups to get to a certain place."
No estimated cost given
She wouldn't venture a guess at the cost to taxpayers to complete the work.
Perret said it's not easy to estimate an overall cost, given the province is negotiating with each individual team to determine its specific needs.
She pointed to the government's announcement two weeks ago that a family practice team would soon be based in the Digby region, working out of the Weymouth Medical Centre.
"The cost in that case is the cost of ... a nurse practitioner and a family practice nurse but when we move to a different community, we might have a different set of costs depending on what resources exist in the community, what facilities are there and what the needs of the community are," said Perret.
Opposition seeks answers
The lack of answers frustrated opposition politicians.
Progressive Conservative MLA Tim Houston scoffed at the suggestion there was no way to know the costs associated with creating a collaborative practice. He said the previous NDP government had already created eight collaborative emergency centres.
"If they really have a plan to get an additional 42 collaborative care centres up and running, they should be able to tell you exactly where they're at," he said.
"They should be able to tell you when they'll open. They should be able to tell you how many patients they will absorb when they're open and they should definitely be able to tell you how much it costs."
Former NDP health minister Dave Wilson was just as upset with the lack of financial detail.
"I'm not asking for the exact dollar figure," he said.
"I think it's a level of incompetence by the Liberal government if they do not know how much these collaborative clinics will cost taxpayers as they unroll them and as they announce them across the province."