The wait–list for a primary care provider in Nova Scotia has risen to another record high as the new president of Doctors Nova Scotia says her tenure will target primary care reform.
There are now 94,855 people registered to find a doctor or nurse practitioner, up from 91,964 last month. The new number represents about 9.5 per cent of the population.
"The number is probably even higher," said Dr. Leisha Hawker, who started her one-year term this week leading the organization that advocates for doctors.
Hawker, who is based in Halifax, works at the North End Community Health Centre, the Regency Park Addiction Clinic and the Halifax Newcomer Health Clinic.
She said the majority of those she treats at the addiction clinic don't have a primary-care provider, and they're not on the list.
Why some people haven't registered
Hawker said some don't believe they need access at the time, but that's not the only reason they haven't registered.
"They don't have optimism that it's actually helpful or useful," she said. "I try to encourage them because it does give us an accurate number if they're on the list."
Hawker plans to push the provincial government to create a primary-care action team. Her hope is to look at the big picture, and see what roles different health-care providers can play.
"Primary care is really kind of crumbling," she said. "A lot of physicians are burnt out. Their caseloads are quite high. Their patients are complex."
She points to the collaboration at the North End Community Health Centre, where physicians work with nurse practitioners, family practice nurses, dietitians and social workers to support their patients.
Hawker wants to see more collaborative centres established throughout the province, but each one tailored to the area's demographics.
"If you went somewhere in rural Nova Scotia, it might be a much older practice, so they might have higher needs in geriatric medicine," she said.
Halifax sees biggest wait-list increase
The latest report on the province's primary care wait–list reveals that the central zone, which includes the Halifax Regional Municipality, saw the biggest increase in need. Its list rose by seven per cent, compared to three per cent provincewide.
Of those who registered on the provincial list in May, 43.9 per cent said their primary-care provider had closed their practice or retired. A further 31.9 per cent said they were new to the area.
Hawker says more work needs to be done to recruit and retain health-care workers. She said one quarter of the physicians in the province are over 60 years old.
"We're going to see a lot of retirements in the next few years and decade as well," she said.
Hawker's suggestion is to create a committee dedicated to recruitment and retention.
A call for more collaboration
She said there are many pathways to hire physicians in the province, and sometimes those workers are given inconsistent messaging.
She wants to see health authorities, government, health-care leaders, schools and professional colleges all working together.
"We'd like it to be more streamlined so it's very straight forward," she said.
Over the weekend, Dr. Colin Audain, an anesthesiologist, was named president–elect and will take over the role from Hawker in June 2023.
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