The chair of Horizon Health Network says he was "perturbed" by the provincial government's assertion that it would be taking over on doctor recruitment, and he is casting doubt on its ability to successfully do so.
During a Horizon board of directors meeting Friday, John McGarry questioned the Department of Health's ability to do a better job than the health networks at recruiting doctors to New Brunswick.
McGarry said he could imagine scenarios that would work at recruiting doctors, such as one doctor calling another and asking if they'd like to join or take over their practice. He also suggested the health network's CEO could successfully recruit doctors by contacting them directly.
"I'm thinking, what physician is even going to have a discussion with a bureaucrat in the Department of Health about taking a position?" McGarry said.
"Because they know they must come back to the [regional health authorities] about privileges; 'What group am I going to be with? What services am I going to do? If I'm a specialty person, what kind of resources am I going to have to do those?'
"It all begins and ends with the hospital and the physicians groups, so I'm really perturbed with this statement of government saying we're taking over recruitment, and [I'm] thinking, 'Well, good luck'."
McGarry's comments came after Health Minister Dorothy Shephard said earlier this week her department was taking the lead on the recruitment of family physicians and nurse practitioners in the province, adding she hasn't been satisfied with the process so far.
As of Dec. 31, there were 44,226 people registered with Patient Connect New Brunswick, which pairs residents with a family doctor.
Shephard also said she has heard complaints from health-care providers about not receiving a call back after expressing interest in working in New Brunswick.
No consultation from Department of Health: CEO
During Horizon's board meeting Friday, CEO Karen McGrath said the Department of Health never communicated to Horizon any issues of prospective healthcare providers not being called back.
McGrath also said the department hasn't offered any directive with respect to it taking a lead on physician recruitment, adding she only heard about the plan through the news media.
She also added to McGarry's concerns about the department's ability to effectively recruit doctors, saying it would be "virtually impossible" for someone in government to be able to identify specific needs within the health authorities.
"We need to be careful about adding layers of complexity," McGrath said.
"So if indeed there is someone in government calling somebody who says yes I'd like to work in anesthesia in X community, and there is actually nobody needed in X community, then we need to be careful about individuals who are not associated with the health authority and know the need and know also the fit."
Horizon gained 38 family doctors since 2019
In further contrast to Shephard's claims, McGrath said she thinks Horizon has been "significantly successful" in its recruitment efforts in the past two-and-a-half years.
"I think it's been nothing short of miraculous quite frankly in terms of the recruitment team in the medicine department."
As part of the meeting, Horizon vice-president of medical, academic and research affairs Dr. Édouard Hendriks highlighted recent statistics on doctor recruitment by Horizon.
He said since July 2019, Horizon has gained 78 new family doctors, and lost 40, for a net gain of 38 across the entire health network.
Of those new doctors, he said less than 10 per cent were brought in with help from the Department of Health.
Hendriks said there's currently "fierce" competition among Canadian provinces to attract family doctors, adding Horizon has partnered with Medicare, the Department of Health and the New Brunswick Medical Society "to make sure we have a common approach for recruitment."