Wait list for family doctors nears 130,000 in Nova Scotia

The number of people searching for a family doctor in Nova Scotia continues to grow with more than 129,000 residents currently on the waiting list. (iStock - image credit)
The number of people searching for a family doctor in Nova Scotia continues to grow with more than 129,000 residents currently on the waiting list. (iStock - image credit)

The number of Nova Scotians on the family practice registry continues to trend upward with more than 129,000 people on the list as of Jan. 1.

The latest numbers from Nova Scotia Health report that nearly 13 per cent of the population is on the list looking for a family doctor.

That represents a 56 per cent year-over-year increase, with 46,643 people joining the list since January 2022.

The top reason for joining the list in December was "I am new to the area," followed by retirement of health care provider.

Last year marked record-breaking population growth in Nova Scotia, with 31,711 people moving to the province between July 2021 and July 2022.

Increase across the province

Of the 5,665 people who added themselves to the waitlist in December, 3,290 are in the Central Zone, which includes the Halifax Regional Municipality. But the need for a family physician has risen in all other parts of the province as well.

More than a third of people waiting for a doctor have registered with the VirtualCareNS program, though the report from the health authority says all people on the list have been invited to join the online care program.

Nova Scotia Health
Nova Scotia Health

In a statement, Liberal Leader Zach Churchill said Tuesday the growth of the list is "deeply concerning" but unsurprising.

"Under the Houston government, thousands of Nova Scotians have had to add their names to the doctor wait list because of specific decisions this government has made like eliminating the family doctor incentive in the Central Zone," Churchill said in the statement.

He also called on the government to provide "innovative ideas" to address the shortage of healthcare workers in the province.

Nova Scotia's health minister, Michelle Thompson, said in a statement to CBC News that the province is working hard to improve access to primary health care.

"The Need a Family Practice Registry is an important list to help us connect people with a doctor or nurse practitioner. It helps us better understand the needs in communities, where our population is growing, and the reasons why people are looking for a practice.

"But there are challenges with the registry. There isn't an automatic process to come off the list when you've found a provider or moved. We'd like to see this list become more interactive to allow Nova Scotians to be able to see where they are on the list and make changes to their health status, so we can prioritize or refer them based on need."

She added that there are many places to get care — such as pharmacies, mobile primary health care clinics, urgent treatment centres or by dialling 811 or online via VirtualCareNS — and the province is working to expand the available options.

Dr. Leisha Hawker, president of Doctors Nova Scotia, previously said the province has long had trouble getting doctors to more rural areas of Nova Scotia. That struggle has since spread to urban communities, as well.

The increase in need in the Central Zone, the province's most populous region, is partly due to doctors leaving for other jurisdictions, she said. Another factor is the province's population has risen nearly nine per cent since 2015 and sits at more than 1 million, according to provincial estimates.