Higgs's comments about family doctors could hurt recruitment, says N.B. Medical Society
The president of the New Brunswick Medical Society is challenging a suggestion by the premier earlier this week that everyone could have access to a family doctor if doctors would take on more patients, and says his comments could hurt recruitment and retention.
Dr. Michèle Michaud contends family doctors are already working beyond maximum capacity.
"With the current resources, you won't get there just by saying, 'Take two or three more,'" she said in French.
Michaud was reacting to comments Premier Blaine Higgs made Monday at a news conference in Charlottetown.
"If every doctor in our province took two or three more patients a week, we wouldn't have a backlog," Higgs said.
"Every one of us has to find out a way that we can deliver health care differently, because I think, unanimously, we'll all say just putting more money into an unmanaged system isn't going to fix it," he said.
"I think we're all in a position to be innovative in this process."
About 55,000 people are registered with the province as not having a family doctor.
According to Michaud, who is a family doctor, palliative care physician, pain clinic physician and hospitalist at the Edmundston Regional Hospital, family doctors "have already had their capacity at maximum and even beyond their maximum for some time."
They care for patients who are increasingly sick, she said, pointing to the aging population, who each require more time.
In addition, the work of family doctors is not limited to office appointments, Michaud stressed. It could include "working in an emergency room, doing obstetrics, deliveries, pregnancy follow-up clinics, palliative care. We are also doing more and more oncology clinics, in addition to serving nursing homes, which need doctors present on site on a regular basis," she said.
There are also follow-ups on the health of patients, the management of test results, as well as the management of the personnel and the other administrative tasks, said Michaud.
We risk causing more professional burnout among doctors in the community. - Michèle Michaud, New Brunswick Medical Society president
To alleviate the waiting lists, she suggests instead filling the lack of human resources. This would, for example, support collaborative work in clinics.
"Asking family doctors [to work] more is currently not necessarily the solution: on the contrary, we risk causing more professional burnout among doctors in the community," Michaud said.
"It also risks, in the long and medium term, harming our recruitment and the retention of doctors who are already in office."
Opposition calls comments 'irresponsible,' 'attack'
New Brunswick Liberal Party Leader Susan Holt agrees.
"It was a little irresponsible comment to just say, 'Hey, get two or three more people a week.' It does not respect the nature of the problem," she said.
According to Holt, Higgs's comments, made on a regional forum following a meeting of Atlantic premiers, do not help New Brunswick.
"It is not a good message to attract people here that we are asking our doctors to do more. That's not a good recruiting message."
Green Party health critic Megan Mitton was also surprised by Higgs's comments. "It is not only bizarre, it is also problematic that the premier is attacking the various health-care professionals," she said.
Mitton rejects the idea that doctors are not already doing enough. "It's not true that they sit around and do nothing, so it's a bit of an attack on doctors."
Like Michaud and Holt, Mitton believes a collaborative approach could help reduce waiting lists for a family doctor.
It would also be necessary, according to her, to hire more doctors in hospitals to free up family doctors to devote more time to their patients.