A program aimed at providing access to primary care to New Brunswickers without a family doctor or nurse practitioner is set to expand to the Saint John and Bathurst regions next week, according to deputy health minister Eric Beaulieu.
N.B. Health Link clinics for Zone 2 and Zone 6 will open on Sept. 11, making the program province-wide, he said.
Beaulieu made the announcement Tuesday at the standing committee on public accounts on the 2021-22 annual report, while under questions from Liberal MLA Rob McKee about how many people are still on the wait list for a family doctor.
A total of 24,717 people are still registered with Patient Connect as not having a primary care provider, said Beaulieu, although it's "safe to assume" the actual number of doctorless patients is even higher since some people may not have registered.
That's down from 47,000 people in May.
N.B. Health Link gives patients without a primary care provider access to a network of family doctors and nurse practitioners through in-person, telephone and online appointments.
When people register with Health Link, they are removed from the wait list and assigned a clinic.
More than 32K receiving services
Since N.B. Health Link launched last year in the Moncton region, 32,107 people have registered and are receiving services, while another 7,055 have registered and are awaiting services, Beaulieu said.
"As the population grows and new individuals settle into New Brunswick, the number of individuals that require a primary care provider keeps increasing for the province. So just being able to maintain the same number without a primary care provider is still a gain in terms of number of people that are covered," he said.
Deputy health minister Eric Beaulieu said collaborative care practices are another focus of the department, and he expects to see another two to four open across the province in the next few months. (Government of New Brunswick)
Beaulieu acknowledged the intent of Health Link is to be a temporary placement until a permanent primary care provider can be identified for a patient.
So far, a total of 1,853 people who went through Patient Connect first have managed to secure a primary care provider, he said.
McKee asked if the department has specific targets and timelines with the province-wide roll out.
Beaulieu said the two primary goals are for every New Brunswicker to have a primary provider "with a leading physician," and access within five days.
"We don't have a deadline, I'll say it that way, but it is a measure that we monitor on a monthly basis with expected improvements every single month.
"Our initial objective, our initial primary health-care plan, was an 18-month plan and we're about six months into that."
McKee noted that when the government took over recruitment from the regional health authorities in 2020, the goal was to give every New Brunswicker a doctor within six months. "As you know, this target was not met."
When the government released its health reform plan, one of the action items was to fully address the wait list for access to primary care by the end of September 2022. Again, the target was not met, McKee said.
"Primary care is the biggest challenge that is faced across the country, not just New Brunswick," replied Beaulieu.