Nova Scotia doctor numbers haven't changed much in last 10 years

Senior health officials told a Nova Scotia Legislature committee Tuesday the government's push to attract and keep more doctors in the province was having the desired effect, but the acting deputy minister of health told reporters afterwards the number of physicians practising in Nova Scotia has remained roughly the same over the past decade.

Using billing data, Dr. Thomas Marrie concluded there's been a net gain of about 20 doctors per year in the last 10 years.

Since 2016 alone, the province has attracted 385 new doctors. However, the net gain has been muted because of factors such as doctors leaving the province or no longer practising, he said.

Marrie said there are about 2,600 doctors in the province.

"We are making some inroads, we're making some progress, but clearly not enough," he said after his appearance before the legislature's standing committee on health.

Jean Laroche/CBC

He flatly rejected the suggestion the province was only treading water in its recruitment efforts.

"Do we need to do better? Absolutely, but we are in a positive balance," Marrie said.

He said Nova Scotia's doctors are aging and more doctors retiring — and their replacements having to deal with more complex cases as Nova Scotians age — increases the need to add to the physician pool.

"Clearly, we'd need to up it more than 20 per year as a net gain," he said. "We can get ahead of it, but not tomorrow."

Marrie said initiatives such as the rural residency program and the community clerkship program would soon "bear fruit," but the roughly 52,000 people on the waiting list to be matched with a family physician might have to wait longer.

He said having 97 per cent of Nova Scotians with a family doctor was a realistic figure, and that the province was still three to five years away from that.

"It's like unemployment, you can't get to a zero," he said about eliminating the list.

Liberals promised a doctor for every Nova Scotian

Premier Stephen McNeil promised a doctor for every Nova Scotia in the 2013 election campaign that propelled the Liberals into government.

Marrie has been at the helm of the Health Department for three months. He took over from Denise Perret, who was deputy minister for a little more than two years before being replaced.

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