HALIFAX — Nova Scotia's NDP says the emergence of a new private Halifax clinic that aims to reduce the strain on the public health-care system is "deeply troubling."
Unified Health bills itself as a "community triage centre" where patients are assessed for a fee by nurse practitioners, not doctors.
Unified Health, which opened late last month, says it aims to help "redirect some of the non-emergency traffic that visits the emergency room."
In the legislature Tuesday, NDP Leader Gary Burrill suggested the clinic only exists because the provincial government has been unable to fix a chronic doctor shortage that has left many Nova Scotians without a family physician.
"Is it right that a person in our province should have to pay $35 for a medical appointment?" Burrill asked Premier Stephen McNeil.
"A person could fairly conclude that the emergence of a private, for-profit clinic providing a service that is supposed to be provided in Nova Scotia free indicates that the job the government is doing on providing health care is missing the mark at a pretty basic level."
In a July news release, Unified Health said patients will be re-directed to emergency services if required, but otherwise nurse practitioners "can provide both acute and ongoing care." The centre also has on site physiotherapy, massage and osteopathic services.
"This system ensures that only medical cases use medical resources and that non-medical cases don't go untreated," it said in the release, which says the clinic aims "to help reduce the strain" on the public system.
Unified Health calls its clinic on Joseph Howe Drive in Halifax a pilot project, and suggests there will be more locations. Its website says it is "bringing wellness and efficiency back into Canada's health-care system."
"It’s not that doctors can't or don’t want to help, we just don’t have enough of them to go around … but we do have other resources that we can start with to pre-screen certain things, like a sore back or shoulder. You just need someone to point you in the right direction," Alan Attwater, president of Unified Health, said in the July release.
A legislature committee heard last December that 42,000 Nova Scotians are actively seeking a family physician, although federal statistics place that number at closer to 100,000 — including people who simply aren't looking for a doctor.
McNeil said Tuesday the province has recruited new family doctors, created new residency positions and taken other measures to provide Nova Scotians with primary health care.
As to the NDP's questions about Unified Health, McNeil said simply: "The health care system is publicly funded in this province and we expect all of the institutions that are providing health care services to meet the Canada Health Act."
The Canadian Press