No change to live donor rule requiring primary care provider: N.S. health minister

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Churchill says the province is training more doctors than ever and continues to work on recruitment. (CBC - image credit)
Churchill says the province is training more doctors than ever and continues to work on recruitment. (CBC - image credit)

A rule requiring live organ donors in Nova Scotia to have a primary care provider will remain unchanged even though the province continues to struggle with doctor shortages, Health Minister Zach Churchill said Thursday.

Churchill said he called the transplant department after hearing a CBC News story about Bonnie Ste-Croix, a Halifax woman who could not be tested as a potential kidney donor because her family doctor had retired.

"That is an important safety measure," Churchill said. "That is a very complicated process that involves a certain level of risk, and according to the clinician advice that I've sought in the department, it is pretty important to ... have a family physician for followup and monitoring."

Potential donor finds doctor

Ste-Croix hopes to donate one of her kidneys to her friend, Brenda MacKenzie. After reading the CBC News story, a doctor agreed to take on Ste-Croix as a patient, which will allow her to see if she's a match for MacKenzie's transplant.

MacKenzie (left) and Ste-Croix have been friends for years. MacKenzie has  polycystic kidney disease, where cysts develop in the kidneys and the organs eventually lose their function.
MacKenzie (left) and Ste-Croix have been friends for years. MacKenzie has polycystic kidney disease, where cysts develop in the kidneys and the organs eventually lose their function. (Submitted by Bonnie Ste-Croix)

There are currently 180 people on the wait list for a kidney transplant in Atlantic Canada. A further 127 are going through the testing process to be added to that list.

Aside from having a primary care provider in place — which includes a doctor or a nurse practitioner — donors must be over the age of 19 and in good health with a healthy weight.

'Greater pressure' to recruit physicians

Ste-Croix and MacKenzie have questioned why the transplant department doesn't partner with a physician or a clinic to provide care for those who want to be a live donor but don't have a primary care provider.

When asked about that solution, Churchill instead focused on the province's physician recruitment efforts.

"I don't know what the overall demand is," he said of potential donors needing doctors. "I think the greater pressure on the system right now is to increase attachment to family physicians."

Wait list rises during pandemic

Churchill said the province has recruited 550 doctors in recent years.

Despite that, the wait list to get a doctor has gone up in recent months. As of March, there were 60,154 Nova Scotians registered to find a doctor or nurse practitioner — 13,000 more than a year ago.

Now that Ste-Croix has a doctor, she's hoping to start the donation testing process as soon as possible. Churchill acknowledged the importance of the gesture.

"I want to thank folks that do donate their organs, that does save lives," he said. "I want to thank the doctor that took this patient on so this can happen."

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