N.L.'s doctor shortage a problem, but not a crisis, says health minister

·3 min read
John Haggie, Newfoundland and Labrador's health minister, told reporters on Tuesday that doctor shortages across the province are challenging but not critical. (Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada - image credit)
John Haggie, Newfoundland and Labrador's health minister, told reporters on Tuesday that doctor shortages across the province are challenging but not critical. (Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada - image credit)

Newfoundland and Labrador's health minister wouldn't label the province's worsening doctor shortage a crisis on Tuesday, despite recent data from the province's doctors' association that shows nearly one in five residents don't have a family physician.

In a news conference meant to address another thorn in the Health Department's side — high ambulance demand and long delays plaguing paramedics in metro St. John's — Minister John Haggie stood by his recent declaration of a plan to close health-care gaps.

"The long-term plan is essentially going to be the Health Accord ... that will be our road map," Haggie said, referring to a working draft from a task force tapped last year to overhaul the health-care system.

The minister said that document, when finalized, would contain recommendations for drop-in clinics and collaborative models to address those gaps, among other suggestions.

But the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association recently said an access-to-information request looking for that plan turned up nothing beyond a documents from 2015.

"The material exists," Haggie said Tuesday. "It's just not in a big binder with 'The Plan' written on it in red letters."

More than 98,000 Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are currently without a family doctor, according to the NLMA, which has asked the provincial government to address the shortage by implementing a recruitment and retention strategy. Those calls have been echoed by individual doctors, as well as the union representing registered nurses.

More clinics lose doctors

Haggie's comments come on the heels of complaints from medical workers in recent weeks, who say they're struggling to provide services to residents across the province due to staffing issues.

They also follow notices from Labrador-Grenfell Health in the last week, stating two of its Northern Peninsula medical clinics no longer have a physician on staff.

As of Friday, the White Bay Central Health Centre in Roddickton-Bide Arm has no doctor "until further notice," according to a release from the health authority.

As of Monday, the Strait of Belle Isle Health Centre in Flower's Cove has no doctor until Nov. 12. Patients at those clinics can be seen by nursing staff or arrange for a virtual appointment, Labrador-Grenfell Health said in a statement.

"You're right. We do have significant problems," Haggie told reporters.

But he declined to frame staffing shortages as reaching a point of crisis, stressing instead that the province's work to bolster access to doctors is ongoing, but delayed by pandemic waves.

"I'm not going to have words put in my mouth. I think the issue is very plain — that we have challenges in the health-care system in multiple areas, and we have approaches to address them," he said.

"We have a lot of policy work that would have been done by now, had the 260-odd people in the Department of Health — and the multiple thousands of people working in the regional health authorities — not been seized by COVID."

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